Wednesday, July 30, 2008

La Cucina di Paola

As I mentioned, in Arezzo I lived with the foxy babes in the nunnery. Of course, I love my convent girls, and I'm not implying that I don't. But listen to this: my friend Marcelo lived with an Italian family near the train station. Marcelo liked to complain about the fact that, living with this family, he did not get to eat out with the group very often- because the mother cooked traditional Italian breakfast and dinner in the house for him. Every day. From scratch.

Obviously at that point I took Marcelo's drink and biscotti from him. Then I told him about the convent.

He didn't complain about his living arrangements any more after that.

He did, however, bring me to dinner one evening. That was when I met Paola, Goddess of Kitchens and Sass.

From the confident slant of her hips as she proffered the serving bowl, to the grin which met the moans of pleasure at her mushroom penne in wine sauce, it was evident that Paola was a woman who knew exactly how to wield her feminine power, and did. She quickly arranged everyone at the table to her liking and decided who would have the privilege of fetching the bread with the cool nonchalance of someone used to being obeyed. When she entered the room I no longer wondered at the boldly colored modern art prints, the safari patterned pillows and strange trinkets dancing along her shelves. In fact, my only question at that moment, which I have no shame in relaying was: 'how do I become this woman.'

Step 1: Cook Like a Goddess
It was surprisingly easy to get Paola to reveal her culinary secrets to me. I shyly asked after her recipe for ragu, which, if the raptures with which Marcelo described it are any indication, is more than edible. (the recipe is included in the list below) Once she started rolling, excitement building as she shared her passion, there was no stopping her. Her daughters were sent running in and out of the kitchen, not for recipe books, since everything was streaming straight out of Paola's head, but for the italian-english dictionary. The rest of the table never had their mouths empty long enough to throw more than the shortest affirmatives on the exchange.

Many minutes, a writing cramp, and several flips through the dictionary later, I was left with these fine gems of the culinary arts, scrawled and heavily corrected in my Italian notebook. I now present them to you, so that you too can make offering to Paola at her stovetop alter.

*stars (and suggestions) denote recipes I've tested since returning to the states. Untested recipes have notes.

If you figure out how to put these recipes in the post so you click on the post if you want to see them and everyone else doesn't have to scroll, drop me an email or comment here. Also, if you try any of the recipes in this blog I'd love it if you'd comment and tell me how it worked, and if you did anything different with it. Happy Cooking!

Fettuccini Alfredo*

18 ounces fresh fettuccine
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
ground nutmeg to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, and drain.

Stir 2 cups of the cream and the lemon juice in a heavy large skillet to blend. Add the butter and cook over medium heat just until the butter melts, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Add the pasta and toss. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cream, and Parmesan to the cream sauce in the skillet. Add the lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Toss the pasta mixture over low heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.

Optional: Saute veggies in butter and toss with pasta before serving. Maybe sweet snap peas, asparagus, or peppers.


8, with yolks and whites separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups cooled espresso
2/3 cup brandy (or rum)
30 lady fingers
2 ounces grated bittersweet chocolate
cocoa powder

Mix the sugar into the egg yolks. Add a little mascarpone at a time to the egg yolk mixture, and mix until smooth. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Set this aside as well.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. (start whipping on high right away, else the eggs won't form peaks no matter what you do)

Fold the whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites.

Put the espresso and alcohol in a bowl so you can dip the lady fingers.

If you want, you can layer the cream in the bottom first. Paola likes to put the lady fingers in first though, cause it's prettier. So, dip the ladyfingers in the espresso/alcohol mix, (quickly so they're coated but not soggy!). Layer them on the bottom of the pan, and sread the cream on top. repeat until you have as many layers as you want with cream on top. Top with grated chocolate and cocoa power. Enjoy.
Basil and Pine Nut Pesto*

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese, or Parmesan

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cheese.
(options: substitute some fresh tarragon for some of the basil, by preference.)

Tomato-Basil Bruschetta*
(not from Paola's kitchen, but keeping with her almost reverent attitude towards fresh basil)

1 (32-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, plus a couple more
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large French baquettes, sliced 1-inch thick (about 36 slices)
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In the bowl of a food processor, add drained tomatoes, 1 cup basil leaves, olive oil and 2 cloves garlic. Pulse until smooth, but somewhat chunky. Season with salt and pepper.

On a baking sheet, line up baguette slices. Toast in oven until light golden brown. Remove from oven and rub peeled garlic cloves on the toasted side of each slice, then lay a piece of mozzarella on top. Place bread back in oven and melt cheese slightly. Remove from oven and spread one tablespoon of the tomato mixture on each piece.

Paola's Famous Ragu (untested, but heartily and unanimously recommended by all at Paola's table)

1 lb sausage
1 lb ground beef
olive oil
whole garlic cloves
(optional thinly sliced carrots and celery)

Cook the olive oil, garlic, and carrots in a pan for about 2-3 minutes. add the meat and cook until brown.

Boil water, drop in 6 whole tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes.

Take the tomatoes out and remove the skin. Slice, and add to the meat.

Add fresh basil and salt/pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Check Your Neck

Our numbers are growing. The first time I went, I was rather shy about the whole thing, but was put at ease when I saw a friend from high school there. The next week, a few more trickled in, and word started to spread. When people began bringing their families, that's when the whole thing really took hold. I'm optimistic about this summer's initiates, and I think our the group will continue to grow and take in new members.

No, I have not joined a cult. It's even better than that. I am now one of the few folks in town who plan the week around Monday nights, own more than three garmets made predominately of crinoline, and shop for dresses based on twirl circumference. I am a Louisville Country Dancer (see also: SUPERCOOL).

MONDAY NIGHTS-contra dancing, with live music, live callers, and *twirling*
7:30 beginner lessons 8:00-11(ish) dance
Church of the Advent on Baxter (near Bardstown Rd)

(I hear you get a +10 circumstance bonus to Cool every time you do-si-do)

I'm rediscovering the charms of Louisville (Also, the charms of a to-do list that includes napping). It really is a beautiful city. I didn't realize that until I left, I think. I've been reconnecting with my friends from high school, and spending a lot of time with my wonderfully crazy family (mostly cause they feed me). This weekend my whole family, cousins, aunts, uncles, and Grammy included, are going out to Cumberland Falls. Agenda for the weekend includes:
-catching lightning bugs, (and covertly handing them to my mother by getting her to "hold this for me")
-telling campfire stories (that make my brother easier to frighten later in the night)
-eating s'mores till there is chocolate all over my face
-convincing my youngest female cousin that she snores louder than any of the dads
-making up our own constellations and telling stories about them
-making sure mom is not so distracted watching birds that she walks off a cliff
-stockpiling memories to last through Fall semester.

In other news:

Daniel's home, finally. Because his nicknames at GSP included Heart-Throbb Lobb, and his facebook now consists of 500 pictures of him and "some girl" grinning at the camera, I've taken it as my solemn duty to call him "squirt" and ruffle his hair as much as possible. He loves it. Amazingly, despite the fandom he's gathered because of his music and stunning good looks (it runs in the family), he's returned home without the huge ego you would expect in a 17 year old heart-throb. He even let his dumpy old sister take him out for brunch! He's written some new very creative songs that would be a pleasure to listen to even if I didn't get to say "that's my brother!" Still, I can't help it if a little irony leaks into my voice when I suggest that you "check out his MySpace."

From August 15th to the 21st I'm going to be an honorary dudette in the surf capital of the world, Santa Cruz, California! I'm visiting my Oberlin friends, Graham and Eugene. Oh, and I get to hang out on the beach and go to San Francisco. You know, everyday stuff....Ok, not gonna lie, I'M SO STOKED! Or is that "I'm hella psyched, dude!"? I'm also hoping to get some surf lessons while I'm there, although Daniel has prepped me not to be dissappointed if I fail spectacularly. He seems to doubt my natural grace. Considering my agility walking and remaining upright on solid ground, and my love of rocking boats and churning waves, I'm sure I will have no problem balancing on a moving board that looks, to great white sharks, like a plump seal. Yeah I know, you don't need to give me that look. There's a bet involved, is part of it. Also, though, I'd like to give it a try. It seems as "california" as hippies and avocados, and I want to say I got the full experience.

Anything else I should try to do in the San Francisco/Santa Cruz area?

I promise I'm going to post some Italy stories soon, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. And no JeNie, it's not because I'm figuring out which parts to tell you about, either. At least, that's not all of it (jk, mom).

Give yourselves big hugs from me, and give me a call if you're in town,


Contributed by Mr. Jeff Foxworthy:

You Might Be a Redneck If....

. . . on Thanksgiving Day you have to decide which pet to eat.

. . . your idea of high-quality entertainment is a six-pack and a bug-zapper.

. . . you think the last words to The Star Spangled Banner are “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

. . . you’ve ever been to a wedding reception at the Waffle House.

. . . your dog has ever brought home something that you cooked for dinner.

. . . you’ve ever hollered, “Rock the house, Bubba!” during a piano recital.

. . . your kids’ favorite bedtime story is “Curious George and the High Voltage Fence.”

. . . your favorite restaurant has a gas pump in front and the word “eats” anywhere in the name.

. . . your baby’s crib mobile is made out of beer cans.

. . . your wife has a set of earrings that you use as a fishing lure.

. . . your chili’s secret ingredient comes from a bait shop.

. . . there is more carpet on your toilet than on your floors.

. . . your mailing address includes the word “holler.”

. . . your favorite fishing lure is TNT.

. . . you tell Grandpa he has something in his teeth and he takes them out to see.

. . . there is a trophy in your house with the word “spitting” on it.

. . . you think the stock market has a fence around it.

. . . your flashlight holds more than four batteries.

. . . you own a flamingo with buckshot holes in it.

. . . your favorite mixed drink includes Yoo-Hoo.

. . . there are four pairs of pants and two squirrels hanging from your clothesline.

. . . your local newspaper has a front-page feature called “Cow of the Week.”

. . . you’ve ever committed a crime with a lawn mower.

. . . your bridal veil was made of window screen.

. . . your favorite cologne is Deep Woods Off.

. . . you think safe sex means putting on the emergency brake.

. . . you use old auto parts as a boat anchor.

. . . you have an above ground pool and you fish in it.

. . . your doghouse and your living room both have the same shag carpet.

. . . you think fast food is hitting a deer at 65 mph.

. . . you save cooking grease in a coffee can.

. . . you have ever tried to use food stamps to mail a watermelon.

. . . your spring wardrobe mostly involves using scissors.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Good Stuff.

(What I'm about to say is going to sound incriminating, so let me premise it with: I was making tiramisu.)

So I was cleaning out Dad's liqueur cabinet last night, looking for brandy, when I found a very curious artifact. It stands about 1 1/5 feet tall, fat and practical, with murky green glass dirty with dust and handprints. When I hold it to the light, I can make out the dark outline of more than a gallon (but about half capacity) of liquid. The red screw-on cap still has an orange clearance tag on it ($14.40), and agrees with the brittle paper label that this is a jug of "soft red wine." I'm more inclined to believe the second label, however, which is handwritten (Nana's writing?) on masking tape. It says only "Good Stuff, 2-10-00."

I feel like the punchline to one of those "you might be a redneck if..." jokes.

After a cautious whiff (my sinuses are now clear) I believe the Good Stuff is either straight bourbon whiskey cured in somebodies basement, or pure Kentucky moonshine. I don't know why, but this strikes me as very funny. Every time I look at the jug (now proudly displayed on the kitchen table) I giggle a little bit. Not sure which is funnier, the fact that we have such a jug, or the fact that we don't have half its contents.

I know I've been terrible about posting. I'm gonna catch up, I swear! After all, I haven't got much better to do. Not that I'm bored! You know I love being home. It's just not as active as I'm used to being in Obieland. Anyways, yes, expect updates soon, one with Italy stories, and one with "since I've been home" stories (most of which involve dancing and food).

Briefly Since I've Been Home:

My brother has called a few times. I think I can count on my fingers the sentences we've exchanged. He's perfected the "hi-gotta go" routine to a T. He seems to be having a blast though. He's taking astronomy and some class about Bob Dylan and activism in the 60s. If we gave him the choice, I don't know if he'd ever come home. Fortunately, I'm not giving him a choice. I'll be there that last Friday, whether he likes it or not, and we're getting pie, damnit!

"Long lines, go forward and back, swing your partner on the side of the set!"
Music to this girls ears, such wonderful words had not been spoken to me for six weeks, can you believe it?! Apparently they don't contra dance much in Italy. Go figure. Since I've been home, I've been seizing every opportunity to get dizzy and wear out the soles of my shoes.

New Recipes for alfredo sauce (with nutmeg and lemon), tiramisu, tomato-basil-garlic bruschetta, and Ragu to be posted soon!

I miss you.


"Nonsense, you don't miss me. You just miss my Derby pie, is all."

Derby Pie
Preheat oven to 325
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
2 eggs
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 c. pecans
1 bag semi-sweet chips
Pour into crust.
Bake approximately 45 minutes, until it's just starting to turn golden brown, and there's a nice sugary buttery crust on top. (To keep the crust from burning you can cover the pie with a foil pie dish with a mug-size circle cut out the center.)

(yeah, it really is that easy. I'm holding my chili recipe though.)