Insalata di Ferragosto

serveAugust. The first month in San Diego that actually feels like summer. And when I say “feel”, I mean it’s warmer than San Diego’s average temperature of 63.65 degrees. It’s so hot, people are being encouraged to use cool zones a.k.a. libraries (I see what you did there San Diego, tricking people into reading). I say, grab a book, leave the library, and head to the beach! August is the prime month for summer vacation after all. Just ask the Italians.

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Ferragosto is an Italian holiday that essentially justifies people taking vacation for a long weekend ….or most of August. In 18 B.C., Emperor Augustus, this month’s namesake, introduced the holiday that he aptly named after himself – feriae Augusti or festivals of the Emperor Augustus. The festivals coincided with other Roman holidays celebrating the harvest and the end of a long period of hard labor. Horses were also relieved from their duties in the field and elaborate horse races were held. These traditions are still alive today, whether you’re at il Palio in Siena, Italy or the Del Mar Racetrack. However, most Italians simply head to the coast to relax – a plan I readily support.
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If August is all about taking a break from a work and relaxing, then I think the cooking philosophy should match. Set aside the 10 plus step recipes for another day and make something simple. Enjoy all the great produce summer has to offer while you still can. Seasonal ingredients shine without fuss. This summer, I can’t seem to get enough of radishes. You may think it is odd that I feel so strongly about a root vegetable, but try some lightly salted sliced radishes on a buttered piece of toast and you will understand. That’s why when I saw a recipe for watermelon radishes with burrata, I knew the crunchy and creamy combo would work.

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After repeatedly trying and failing to find watermelon radishes, I decided to use the small red variety. Although I love burrata mozzarella, if it’s too hard to track down, I think buffalo mozzarella or bocconcini would work great as well. I added arugula, but you could use mache, butter lettuce, or just skip the greens. The point is to enjoy the food and the extra time you will save with an easy recipe. As for myself, I plan on spending that time on the beach.

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Insalata di Ferragosto, serves 4

  • 2 handfuls of arugula*
  • 8 oz. burrata*
  • Half a bunch of red radishes, thinly sliced
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped fresh chives
  • 1 loaf of rustic bread, sliced

*See above for substitute suggestions.

Place arugula on a large serving plate. Tear burrata into pieces and place on top of the arugula. Arrange radish slices on top of the burrata. Drizzle olive oil on the salad, then squeeze the juice from the lemon. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Top with chives. Serve with grilled or toasted sliced bread (put a little salad on top of a slice and you’ve got a great piece of bruschetta).

Pan Dulcis

toastA good morning makes all the difference. I start most of my mornings by pressing snooze at least three times. That is probably not the right start to my day. In an ideal world, I would wake up early without an alarm and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out for the day. Although that’s not my reality, I do have certain morning routines that brighten my day. For example, I usually walk by a court house on my way to work, and when I do, I can always count on being greeted by name by the friendliest security guard. His name is Tro. Yes, T-R-O, like temporary restraining order, as he explained it. Lately Tro has been working with “the Italian”, who likes to say, “Buongiorno signorina. Come stai?” or “Dove è il mio cappuccino?” These things make me happy.

breadAs most of you know, breakfast also makes me happy. I tend to be a creature of habit with my favorite breakfasts. On weekdays, I like a little bit of Greek yogurt with fresh berries and cashew ginger granola for some crunch. On weekends, I usually find myself at The Old Townhouse with a plate full of fried eggs, hash-browns, and crispy bacon.  A couple of weekends ago, however, I decided to spice it up a bit. I had my two girlfriends, Kristen and Shradha, over for Sunday brunch to try out this recipe. It’s French toast, with an Italian twist. And it’s so good, I imagine my old friend “the Italian” would try it and say, “Brava!”

2xNow, what I am about to tell you, may blow your mind. French toast … was not invented by the French! The earliest reference to what we know as French toast is in a 4th century Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius. Just as we do today, the Romans would soak bread in a milk and egg mixture and fry it in oil or butter. They called this recipe “pan dulcis”, hence the title of my post. The French actually call this concoction “pain perdu”, or “lost bread”. The bread is described as “lost’ because the recipe calls for hard or stale bread. The name “French toast” allegedly originates with an Albany, NY innkeeper named Joseph French. In 1724, he made the dish we all know and love, and he advertised it as “French toast”.  The rest is history, I guess. But as far as I am concerned, I think the Italians through their Roman ancestry can claim this dish as their own.

dip2For my version of French toast, I wanted to incorporate some Italian ingredients. I was inspired by a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, which uses “panettone”, a Milanese sweet bread loaf enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, since “panettone” is a seasonal treat, I couldn’t find it for this dish. However, I did find an amazing substitute at Con Pane – raisin hazelnut bread. I think any hearty fruit and nut bread you can find would be delicious. I did borrow one ingredient from the French – Grand Marnier. Everything is better with a little Grand Marnier, right? Then, to bring it back home, I put a big scoop of marscapone cheese on top of the final product.

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This recipe marks my 50th blog post! August will be my 5 year blogaversary, which I will celebrate with a special recipe to be determined. Some years I have been more productive than others, but I’m just happy that I’m still doing what I love and that you are still reading. By far, my favorite mornings are those when I am cooking something up for y’all. Cheers.

Pan Dulcis, serves 4-6

  • 1 loaf hearty fruit & nut bread (see above)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Marscapone cheese
  • Fresh berries
  • Maple syrup
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut loaf into roughly 1-inch thick slices and set aside. In a casserole dish, whisk together the eggs, half & half, Grand Marnier, orange zest, and sugar. Warm the maple syrup in a small pot over low heat.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, dip the bread slices into the custard, turning to allow both sides to absorb the custard. Cook the soaked bread slices until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining butter and bread slices.

Transfer the French toast to plates. Drizzle warm maple syrup over the toast and place a dollop of mascarpone on top. Lightly dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh berries.

Mozzarella Meatballs

ballsLet me just get this out of the way at the outset. It is going to be very difficult for me not to be “punny” in this post. It doesn’t help that the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live just aired, reminding me of this clip. There is also a special guy who has helped me make various versions of this recipe while repeatedly cracking jokes. All that said, my mouth’s watering just thinking about these balls… sorry I couldn’t help myself. Whatever gets me posting more often, right?

tableIn all seriousness, these are pretty amazeballs (you can thank Paris Hilton for that term). I adapted a Todd English recipe that can you find in this cookbook. As soon as I saw the meatballs were stuffed with mozzarella, I was in. I mean, everything is better with cheese. Usually I am happy with just pasta and sauce. These meatballs really steal the show though. Luckily this recipe makes quite a few. They are perfect to make for a dinner party with friends (thanks Ken, Christy, Carey, and David for joining me!). If there are any extra, you can always share with a certain lady or tramp.

mixMozzarella Meatballs, makes 25 meatballs

  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 3 cups soft, fresh breadcrumbs (I used a baguette)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 25 1-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic, stirring often, for 7 minutes or until translucent. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool completely. Add the remaining ingredients, except the mozzarella, to the bowl and mix well.

Shape each meatball around one mozzarella cube. One meatball should be a little bigger than a golf ball. Place stuffed meatballs on a lightly greased rack on top of a baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve on top of spaghetti with my favorite tomato sauce.

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Grilled Corn Salad

salad_smSchool has started (without me!) and summer is winding down. But that doesn’t mean that I have stopped learning or that I can’t take advantage of summer’s best fare. Grilled corn always makes me think of summer. While watching the Food Network on the elliptical–counter-intuitive, I know–I saw a recipe for a corn and scallion salad with cilantro, mint dressing. I wanted to make an Italian version of the salad, and a Labor Day BBQ with my new co-workers was the perfect opportunity. Luckily I have a friend who also loves grilled corn and was able to share a few grilling tricks with me. So for the day, Cucina di Carrie becomes Cucina di Carey.

beforethegrillLesson #1: How to clean a dirty grill. I am ashamed to say that I am not sure if I have ever cleaned my little grill prior to this BBQ. Carey took one look at it and suggested it was time. I am sure I gave some lame response like, “I don’t have the tools to clean it.” But to my surprise, I actually did. Carey informed me that all I needed was some aluminum foil. I took a few sheets of foil, crumpled them into a ball, and rubbed it over the grates. Magically, all the baked-on gradoo was gone. Here is a more thorough step-by-step guide, but for a quick clean-up Carey’s method was perfect. After only a few minutes, we were ready to fire up the grill!

grillLesson #2: How to grill corn without tongs. Does anyone else keep the rubber bands that are always around vegetables? I have become somewhat of a hoarder of such rubber bands, and most of them go unused. However, it turns out that they are perfect to bind corn husks together, making a convenient handle for grilling. All you need to do is pull back the husks, remove the silk threads, and wrap a rubber band around the husks. Then the corn is free to season and grill. Just be careful to keep the rubber bands off the grates so they don’t melt.

corn_cutter2Lesson #3: How to easily remove corn from the cob. I know I am not the only person who has struggled cutting corn off the cob with a knife. It is a messy ordeal and it is hard to cut off whole kernels. This handy corn-cutter, or corn zipper, makes this process much easier. The blade is pretty sharp, so keep your fingers out of the way and hold on to the husk. Admission: I may or may not have sliced a finger (that is why there are not pictures of me doing this). Here’s another tip for y’all: make sure the coals aren’t still burning when you toss them in the dumpster. Otherwise your neighbors will have to pour water on the trash to make sure our homes don’t burn down. Not that I know anything about that…

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Grilled Corn Salad, serves 6-8

Salad

  • 6 large ears of corn
  • Canola or sunflower oil for brushing
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 7 ounces bocconcini mozzarella, halved
  • 1/2 package baby arugula (approx. 3 ounces)

Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Pull the corn husks back and remove the silk threads. Wrap a rubber band around the husks. Lightly brush the corn with oil. Season with salt and pepper.

While the grill is heating, combine the basil, mint, parsley, vinegar, honey, and some salt and pepper in a blender. Blend until smooth, slowly adding the olive oil until emulsified. Taste and season as desired. Set aside for later use.

Grill the corn, covered, until charred on all sides and the corn is tender, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Cool slightly and remove the kernels from the cobs. Combine the corn, tomatoes, mozzarella, and arugula in a large bowl. Add a spoonful of the vinaigrette at a time and toss to lightly coat. You will have quite a bit of the dressing leftover, but it is delicious on any salad!

Sedano Alle Noci

1Well,  I made it to the other side. I took the California Bar. Now, I am back to work, but thankfully I had a little break. And what better way to decompress from a summer of studying than a girls trip to Napa Valley and San Francisco? Great friends, food, and wine are the perfect remedy for whatever ails you. I came home refreshed and ready to start cooking! Inspiration for the blog was all around during my vacation. We ate at amazing restaurants (Calistoga Inn, Gotts Roadside, Nopalito, Chino) and enjoyed tastings at beautiful vineyards (Hall Wines, Twomey Cellars, T-Vine Cellars, Envy Wines). One of my favorite stops, however, was to a little olive oil shop in downtown Calistoga. I am a sucker for good olive oil, so I bought a bottle knowing I wanted to use it for this recipe.

2I found this recipe, translated as celery and walnut salad, while browsing The Silver Spoon for ideas. It sounded interesting, but after a quick glance, I flipped past it. I mean, come on, the main ingredient is celery. It is not the sexiest vegetable. We all buy it to use a few stalks for tuna salad or to make chicken stock. Then the rest sits sadly unused in the refrigerator until it is inevitably tossed in the trash. Still, something told me not to discount this simple salad. As the saying goes, keep it simple stupid. Let the ingredients shine. With my new olive oil in hand, I was ready to take a chance. The result was awesome – way better than ants on a log.

4The celery is bright and crunchy. Toasted walnuts add a warm earthiness. A diced green apple provides a little sweetness, while Parmesan cheese keeps the salad savory. And the simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil ties everything together. My favorite chicken piccata recipe nicely complimented the salad with a chilled glass of pinot grigio. I think it would also be a great side at your next cookout. The celery loses a bit of its crunch the next day, so I would suggest sharing it or cutting the recipe in half. Or you could just eat it all by yourself. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy doing that.

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Sedano alle Noci, serves 4-6

  • 1 bunch of celery, trimmed
  • 1 green apple, cored and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 lb Parmesan cheese, diced
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts*, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 5 tablespoons good olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

*To toast the walnuts, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the walnuts on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, checking frequently.

Halve the celery stalks lengthwise and cut into thin strips. Reserve the leaves and roughly chop. Place the celery and apple in a salad bowl and stir in half the lemon juice. Add the cheese, parsley, celery leaves, and half the walnuts. Whisk together the olive oil and remaining lemon juice in a separate bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss in the remaining walnuts.

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