Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Risotto agli Aspargi al Forno

Roasted Asparagus Risotto

Some people might say that vegan food is not as delicious, savory, or creamy as non-vegan food, and I hope to prove them wrong with this yummy risotto. For many vegans, the hardest thing to give up are cheeses and creamy foods. This problem is a small one, but with a good Italian risotto, you can have your cream, and eat it too. Here in Rome, people have a very pasta heavy diet. In fact, Romans eat more pasta per person than in any other part of Italy. Making a risotto is a fun escape from the world of pasta, and it is a great alternative for when you have a gluten intolerant guest. In this recipe we are using Italian Arborio rice which is a very starchy short grain rice, that, with proper treatment, can give your food a rich creamy texture without the addition of butter and/or cream. Although risotto is relatively simple to make, be careful that you continuously stir the rice or it will quickly burn. To get a more creamy texture and flavor, gradually stir in the broth, instead of adding in all in at once.


400g. of fresh asparagus, trimmed

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 medium golden onion(sliced)

2 cups arborio rice

1/4 cup of dry Italian white wine(I use Frascati)

6 cups of vegetable broth

Coarse Salt(to taste, I used about 1 tablespoon, but my broth is salty anyway)


Pre-heat oven to 220 C

In an oiled baking pan, toss the asparagus with 1/4 cup olive oil and coarse salt, then put them in the oven for 10 minutes. While they are roasting,

On medium heat in a non stick deep pan(non-stick great for sticky risotto), simmer 1/4 cup olive oil and white wine and sliced onions

heat the onions until they are more or less clear and then remove them from the oil, leaving the oil in the pan.

Stir in rice into the hot oil and stir for about 2 minutes so the rice absorbs onion flavor, and is slightly toasted

Make sure to stir well, and slowly, you don't want the rice to burn.

Slowly stir in a cup of broth on low/medium heat, until it is absorbed and then stir in another cup of broth, and continue until you have stirred in all the broth.

While you are stirring the broth into the risotto, check on the asparagus, about ten minutes after placing them in oven, and if they have slightly browned, turn them over for another 5-10 minutes until both sides are brown.

After asparagus are done, slice then in 1-2 inch pieces

Throw them into the risotto pan,

And stir them in. The five cups of broth should have been adequate, but if not, add water and always stir. Stir until the texture is creamy and the rice is al dente

VoilĂ !!

We enjoyed this with a bottle of non-oaked Chardonnay from Alto Adige.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our Day in Piglio

Our Day in Piglio, Latium, Italy

Our day in Piglio.
A few week ago Ettore and I were tired of being house bums and decided to get back into our old routine of going for a Sunday drive to a town within two hours of Genzano for a walk and lunch. We decided we would go to a little mountain town called Piglio which is located in the hills of Frosinone, which is a province of Latium. Piglio is "famous" for a native laziale varietal called Cesanese and Cesanese del Piglio has the excited new designation of a DOCG wine, which is th first in the region of Latium.
After the fall of Rome is 476 C.E. Rome experienced a huge change, which was a population drain and a brain drain. When the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from the city of Rome to Constantinople, many of the skilled crafts people left, as well as scholars. Rome's population in th 5th c. dropped to about 10,000, although some estimates say 20,000 people. With the collapse of Rome in the west, Italy was espeically plagued by constant evasions by the so-called Barbarians. Without a central power securing the city of Rome, many people fled the area and moved into the hills of Latium where they built these amazing medieval towns out of stone totally isolated from anyone else, but also protected from invasions. Piglio is a great example of this. In the Middle Ages, Italy was primarily made up of hundreds of little city states, all at odds with each other. What happened is really what defines Italy today, a country of extreme diversity in culture, language and kitchen. Many people went back to their roots, to the villages of their ancestors before they were Romanized. The Hernici once ruled this region.
The Pigliesi retained their cooking and wine making skills for centuries without interuption, many of these traditions were brought from classical Rome. When one drinks the native varietals of Latium, one drinks the wine of the Classical Romans. It is a very exciting time in terms of wine production in Latium, with native varietals being rediscovered and wine producers realizing they have gold in their hands, and instead of relying on the internationl grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, they are places their bets on what seems natural, and what will thrive in the region.
So on this cloudy day, we decided to give ourselves a few hours break from our sick puppies, and took a drive into the real backwater countryside of Latium for a small taste of what the town offered.
After a very pleasant one hour drive from Genzano on the Autostrada, We encountered this town built of whatever stones were in the area. I would have hated to be the peasant who had to transport good from the fields to the town!

Due to recent rains(I should say never ending rains!) the countryside of Piglio was very green, and even though the vines of Cesanese were lifeless at the moment, the had an air of nobilty and age that no New World wine countryside can compete with.

When we got to town it was still too early for lunch, so we decided to have a walk in what seemed like an ancient ghost town, but surprisingly we came across people just minding their own business. This lady seemed to be taking laudry from the well to hang to dry. The people of these sorts of town are very interesting. It is rare to see young people, and the older people really hang on to their traditions as if glued to them. Ettore enjoyed hearing their dialect. He couldn't understand. That is what centuries of isolation created!!

It is good to know Italians never lost the ability to make the Etruscan arch. That's right...the arch is NOT a Roman invention, but something Romans took from the Etruscans when they conquered them.I love to study pre-roman Italian civilizations.

So we finally saw a child. Sometimes people who are from these towns move to the cities, but they never forget their roots, and come home for Sunday lunch.

When it was finally lunchtime, we found a real hole in the wall, down a stone alley, with the smallest door. The only reason when knew it was a open for lunch it because of the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. It was cold, and we cold smell minestrone and polenta, cold weather foods that appealed to our cold hands.
The restaurant is called La Cantinetta. They weren't quite ready to serve lunch, but they welcomed us anyway, and we got our table and ordered the house wine, which was made by the owners Uncle, a lovely Cesanese del Piglio, which was lovely with the grilled vegetable antipasto which were the best tasting grilled vegetables I have ever tsated. they were perfect, straight from the garden, and with a very earthy homemade olive oil from the region. YUM!

For lunch I ordered the Polenta di Porcini which was more of a creamy polenta with fresh mountain porcini, most likely fund in the forest behind the town. I can tell you it was delicious, but not very good looking, which is why I didn't take a close-up photo.

Ettore ordered the Penne di carciofi the pasta with artichoke. It was also delicious, and not as bitter as many artichoke dishes are, which was great in terms of being to taste the wine. Sometimes the bitter metalic property of artichoke interferes with wine. It is notoriously hard to pair with wine. Ha! You can actually see the fork moving in the photo. It was so delicious, I couldn't get Ettore to wait 5 seconds while I took a photo!!
All the food was extremely fresh, the kitchen aromas were enough to appeal even the pickiest eater. We had a lovely day trip, and the best part of it was the cost. Our meal, which was two antipasti, two primi, two desserts, house wine, and caffe was only

30 euro for both of us.
It was really one of the best meals of my life. Simple country food, that was satisfying in is simplicity, but also in it's soul and heartiness. I can't wait to get there in the summer, when everyone is boiling in Rome, I will be enjoying the cool mountina breeze of Piglio, sipping on a local wine. We saw that there argreat haking paths in the area and want to make a backpacking trip in the area. Hiking all day, eating local cuisine at night. Our favorite kind of vacation. The first year I lived here, Ettore and I would go on spontaneous day trips like this all the time. This tradition has waned, but I am hoping to revive it. Italy is so diverse, even a town about 50km away is like a different country for us.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pomodori con riso e patate al forno

Pomodori con riso e patate al forno

Rice stuffed tomatoes with rice and roasted potatoes.
Ingredients for 4 people
4 medium tomatoes
2 large potatoes.
1 cup of brown rice
2 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
4 cups of water
salt to taste

Preheated oven at 180 Celcius

1st. cut off tops of tomatoes and with a spoon gently scoop out the fruit.

after you have finished all the tomatoes, in a small pot add tablespoon of oil, and one finely choppped clove of garlic. add a splash of white wine and simmer, DO NOT BROWN THE GARLIC. add the remains of the tomatoes fruit you just dug out, add rice, water and salt.

cook on medium heat until rice is almost dry about 3/4 done and then stop simmering, but you still want some moisture. do not finish cooking the rice in the pot or pan. only about 1/2 way, when the rice is between crunchy and chewy. AS well it is important to stir continuously and use a masher to mash the rice and pulp of the tomatoes together.

While the rice is boiling, peel and chop potatoes to small bite size. put them in raosting pan and add olive oil and salt to taste. make sure all potatoes have oil.
Stuff the tomatoes with rice mixture, and them place the tops on.
place them carefully in the pan with the potatoes. cook for about 25-30 minutes depending on how crispy you like your potatoes.
The potatoes were excellent. the were roasted and crispy, yet had a hint of tomatoe juice.
I served a Sangiovese wine from lazio...but I already recycled the bottle. It was nice. Even though it was a highly acidic tomato dish, the acid was balanced by the roasted flavor, and the nutty brown rice.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sweet Sweet Porto

I was fortunate in my life to have found and loved a very special puppy named Porto. I found him in a dumpster with his brother Chardonnay, and I loved him from the first. In total, I found three of the brothers in the same location. Porto never seemed to have a fair life, and his life ended, sadly, violently, and prematurely on Saturday. I know that many people think it is easy to say good bye to a pet, but I am finding it to not be true. I have feelings of guilt, of depression, of mourning, and they are profound. When I found Porto, and Chardonnay, and later their brother Chardonnay, I knew they could not live in our small apartment, with our cats. And Fortunately I was able to take them to live on Ettore's grandfather's vineyard, a place I thought would be at best, temporary, as I planned to get them all adopted to good homes. Porto was the first to get "adopted" by a family with disabled kids, and we thought, at first the match was great. We were wrong. We checked in on him two weeks later and he was in a cage, skin and bone, with no food or water. We took him back, and I promised I would never give him up again. The area I live in is full of street dogs, and sadly, finding abandoned puppies is not uncommon, but I didn't want to risk them living an entire life at the shelter, so we kept them, down at the land, where they ran freely, and had a barrack to live in, and I visited them everyday and ran with them. Porto was always the one that struggled to fit in with his brothers, and he always wore his heart on his sleeve. He was truly a very special boy, and I loved him, and when I would visit them daily, I would make a special point to give him extra caresses and kisses, because I knew he needed them. But he faced this life with courage, and even though he didn't live in our house, he had his place, and he was always happy to see us.
Starting in November, the puppies were growing up, and they needed to be vaccinated but, I thought, more importantly, neutered, because they would often come up missing, and the town had other street dogs. I thought it was responsible for us to get them fixed because when they would go missing it would break my heart, and in any case, I didn't want to be responsible for yet MORE street puppies.When I got back from my last visit to the states, my priority was getting them fixed.In retrospect, all the signs of Porto being ill were already there. He had a strange tick, and was tired. We made arrangements, to get them fixed and then in a week we would vaccinate them.
Going under, for any animal or human always takes a toll on the immune system. We got them back and they were all fine for about a week, and then one by one they all came down with what we thought was a Gastroenteritis Virus or poisoning, as one of the pups had actually been poisoned. NOT uncommon is this region. People hate these dogs. We got them medical care and they all seemed to recover, even Porto. Then I noticed a hole in Porto's leg that looked like a gunshot wound or a an animal bite. Porto and Bellone both got sick a second time, but Bellone recovered. Porto, sadly, took the Distemper virus, and it not only infected his intestinal tract, it got him in the lungs, and in the nervous system and eventually the brain. He had a nervous tick, then he couldn't breathe well. But he faced each problem with courage, he ate, he drank, he wanted to go out, even though he was weak, We tried everything for him to help him. We went broke on everything we would think of, but last Sunday was the last day he ate. It was also the last day he ran on his vineyard. The next day, on Monday he seemed tired, but I took the boys out for a small walk at the Lake of Nemi, which always revives me. And he was struggling, and not eating. He started to have vomiting, and ticking, he refused food and water, so we had him on an IV. Up until Thursday, he was still trying. He would get up to relieve himself, he would jump in bed with me to cuddle, so we were still hopeful. Then the virus just stuck him down. On Thursday he would still walk, but he would fall. On Friday morning he had pure liquid blood stools, and stared having seizures. We took him to the vet, and the doctor told us he was done. We brought him home, to say goodbye, but he was a seizure and went into a coma. On Saturday morning, we found him in a pool of his own waste, and knew it was time. Nobody, animal or man, deserves to live like that, he deserved some dignity, and and end to his misery, so we took him to the vet, and he was slowly put to sleep. Ettore wanted to go alone, and I let him, and I am happy he was not alone. He faced all of the disease with courage and hope, and smiled up until the end. He never became angry when we were hooking him up to IVs and bombing him with Vitamins to boost his immunity. In the end, he was just too weak.Porto was a brave soul, and honestly one of the purest and innocent beings I have known. I think now I am the fortunate one to have found him, because even though his life was brief, he lived in fully, smiled, protected his vineyard and olive grove. All he asked for was to be held when he didn't feel well, for extra caresses, and love. He was never shy when giving us love. He made my life better, and made me want to be truer to my beliefs, because through him, I saw the soul of a beautiful animal,, so precious. He was the most precious puppy, and I don't want his life and death to go unnoticed. Porto matter to us, and we loved him, and we made our mistakes, but he remained loving until the end.Today we took him back to his olive grove, and buried him between the trees in the spot where we would often relax together to take the sun. He loved bones, and he loved to get belly rubs.I will keep Porto in my heart forever, and my heart will always have a piece missing that belongs to him...REST IN PEACE LITTLE PORTO!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Poor Puppies


I haven't had much time to blog lately because I have three very sick puppies who have been in and out of the dog hospital for the last 2 weeks. They are now staying at home with me, but one of them is just not getting better.

I have been cooking, however, and I plan to catch up with my blog as soon as I don't have to be a doggy nurse anymore.

Look forward to Cime di Rapa, Amatriciana Vegana, and Minestrone delle Verdure.