My Kitchen, My World…Italy!

Italy is one of those places….I immediately fell in love with. The sites, the sounds, and oh yeah, the FOOD. I could eat Pizza Margarita until the day I die. In fact, when we are over there, we rarely have a meal that doesn’t include our favorite pizza. It just goes without saying.

I have so many great memories of being in Italy.

The first time we went, we were newlyweds, and traveling with our housemates (yes, we had roommates even though we were married. Plus, we all lived together even after THEY were married, too. AND there was another couple in the house TOO. We called it the Commune. Those were some good times, I tell you. Life was so different then.) But back to Italy. It was springtime, and our first glimpse of Italy was on the train, as we made our way from Austria through the Dolomites on our way to Venice. Just stepping off the train at St. Lucia Station and seeing the Grand Canale is, well, life changing. After a gondola ride, some shopping on the Rialto, and a visit to St. Marks, we ate at a tiny but PACKED ristorante called the Bora Bora. Hands down, that was the best meal EVER. Gnocchi. Pizza. Lasagna. Crepes with Chocolate and Bananas. We stuffed ourselves. Then, as fast as you can say Midnight Train to Naples, we were off….to Naples. To Pompeii. To Rome…to Milan. And then off to the rest of Europe for a few weeks. It was an amazing experience that I am so glad I got to share with two of our very best friends.

Since that trip, we have slowed down a bit and stay put in one place for awhile. We’ve been to Venice probably 4 or 5 times since then – and everytime we go, we eat at the Bora Bora. But we also like to grab these little fried mozzeralla sandwiches for lunch from a little cafe nearby. Super YUM!! I can’t seem to recreate them no matter what I do.

A new favorite place for us is Florence. I love the culture, the small town feel. The Florentine Bistecca. What a fabulous piece of MEAT! We stayed there for Christmas one year, and it was stunning…the lights were like magic. Those Italians really know how to do Christmas lights!

Our all time favorite though is Rome. How many times have we been?? Lots. Not sure. But when we go, we hit the same ristorantes every time. Yes, we try new places, too, but these are stand by goodies. The Pummerola, where we grab Rigatoni Amalfi – a pan served alfredo pasta with asparagus. Exquisite. Next door is the Della Palma, which is THE gelato in Rome. Over 100 flavors. Not a typo. 100 flavors. Take that, Baskin Robbins. We also hit the frescoed Taberna, near the Trevi Fountain. We found it the first time we went, and love the ambiance. Great prices, too. And finally, La Scala is where we go for a little dressier affair – Veal is a fave here.

So that’s a food tour of Italy. But why is Rome our favorite?? Well, long-ish story. Jon and I had trouble getting pregnant. For years. I was the one with the majority of the problem, in fact, so I had been seeing a specialist at Wake Forest for quite a while. It was gut wrenching, driving 2 hours each way 2 or 3 times a month just to get bad news. So after thousands of dollars spent and hundreds of pills and shots and tests…I finally said enough is enough about a week before Christmas in 2006. It was at that appointment that my specialist gave me the news that once again I hadn’t ovulated. That was December 18. I decided as soon as I heard that I was stopping my treatments for a month or so. They made me feel bad, and we had a huge Mediterranean Cruise planned for our seventh anniversary in January, and I wanted to feel good again. So I stopped. Christmas came and went, and I did have one more blood test done just to reconfirm there was no ovulation. The New Year came and went with a ski trip and all of our old roomies were with us (that was too fun!) and then we flew over to Rome to catch our fantabulous cruise ship. Seven stops…one of which was in Cairo, where we saw the Pyramids, which are, as everyone knows, the only remaining example of the Seven Wonders. When we got back to Rome (the City of Seven Hills) – I was fine for a couple of days, but the 3rd day I was about to DIE. I couldn’t walk. Talk. Breath even. I tried pacing. I tried sleeping. Nothing would help the pain I was in. So after about 6 hours of torture and throwing up, I was escorted to the Ospedale San Giacamo. Scary. Scary place. Not a hospital like here, folks. The exam table was kind of like you would see a butcher use – all shiny and sterile and NO paper blanket or ANYTHING. Just stainless steel and my sick, bare ass. And to my side was a 1982 black and white TV hooked to a computer of some sort, which was attached to the ultrasound this Italian speaking doctor was, um, probing me with to find what was causing me so much pain.
Turns out, this little heartbeat emerged, and the 1982 TV measured an 8 week old baby on board. Now, do the math, people. I found this out on January 30…a mere 6 weeks after my Ultrasound and only 4 and a half weeks after my last blood test. How did they miss THAT???

So, if you have been keeping up and really reading the story, you’ll see a pattern. Seven Hills of Rome. Seven Stops. Seven Wonders. Seventh Anniversary. And how ’bout this? We dated Seven years before getting hitched. What else could we name this baby but…Seven??

And so now, all of you that have been asking me – “why Seven?” – there’s your answer.

And that’s why I love Italy so much. That, and the fact that the hospital trip cost me ZERO DOLLARS. What?? Yep – free. Imagine that happening here in the US.

So when we choose the MKMW challenge as Italy – I’m going all out. Sit back folks, this is a meal.

Lemon Basil and Blackberry Vinaigrette over Mixed Greens and Summer Fruits

For the Viniagrette

1 cup fresh blackberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 T. water
splash vanilla
8 Lemon Basil Leaves (regular Basil will work, too)
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic (the wet kind)
1/2 tsp salt (I used Eurasian Black Salt but any kind will do)
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
3/4 cup Vegetable Oil

In saucepan, boil blackberries with sugar and water until thickened, add vanilaa and stir. Remove from heat. Strain if desired. (otherwise you will have seeds in your dressing, but that was fine with me.)

Combine cooled berry mixture with basil, garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar in Food Processor until combined. Add Oil a little at a time and then mix until smooth and creamy.

For our salad, we used mixed greens from our garden, a fresh peach cut into chunks, a few sliced strawberries and a handful of blueberries. It was unusual – but EXCELLENT. And the best part about it for me was that the entore thing was free. Free Blackberries (from the backyard), free peach (from our peach tree) free lemon basil from the herb garden, free lettuce, free blueberries. Everything else, I always have on hand anyway.

Lasagna Amalfi with Sea Scallops and Shrimp

I really can’t give you a definite recipe on this, as I made it on the fly, so I will provide you approximations in case you decide to try it yourself. The approximations will be close, but use your judgement when making it, as everyone likes things their own way!

I had my own lasagna noodles that I had made last week, and I would imagine there was about the same amount of noodles as in one of the larger boxes of noodles. I boiled them until al dente. While they were cooking, I combined one cup of warmed heavy cream, 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmegiano Reggiano, and 1 stick of melted butter with a pinch of salt and stirred until it was combined and melty. You could easily use store bought Alfredo Sauce, but this is easy and tastes great. I also cooked up a few spears of fresh asparagus and about a cup of frozen peas with butter. (I did this in the microwave.) When the noodles were ready to go, I began layering the noodles in a Pyrex baking pan. I used roughly 3/4 pound peeled and deveined UNCOOKED shrimp, cut into bite sized pieces, and 1/2 pound of beautiful Sea Scallops, also cut into pieces. As I made the lasagna, I added the seafood, the alfredo, the peas and asparagus, some fresh oregano leaves, some chopped spinach from the garden and about 2 cups of Italian cheese blend. (Mozzeralla, Parmesan, the choice is yours)
Once finished, I baked it at 350 until the cheeses were melted and the seafood was cooked through, approximately 30 minutes.

This isn’t your typical lasagna, no. It is amazing though. So crisp and fresh with the addition of the peas – but the seafood really is the star of the show. It was an excellent dinner, but maybe even better today for lunch. It reheats surprisingly well in the microwave, and didn’t lose any of its crispness. I am really pleased!!

Summer Fruits Gelato

Not a fan of tiramisu. Sorry. I know, I know, that’s the quintessential Italian dessert. But I just don’t like it! Gelato, however, now that’s a great dessert. Especially in the summer, though I’ll eat it in the colest part of January. (and I have.) My favorite flavor is Coconut, but because it is so summery hot right now, I made a mixed fruit gelato using the berries I had leftover from several TWD challenges recently. Blueberries, Peaches, Red & Black Raspberries and a few Blackberries, too. The Italians are all about using what is on hand and fresh, and this was both on hand and fresh.

I simply combined the fruit with a simple syrup (1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, heated until dissolved) I let the fruit sit in the syrup for quite some time, then refrigerated it. I combined it, once cooled, with a splash of vanilla, some fresh lemon zest and the juice from half a lemon. Then I put it in the blender and pureed it. I added this mixture to a cup of heavy cream and then put it in the ice cream machine to do its thing. End result?? Fabulous…and very reminicent of the gelato at the Della Palma. Now, If I could JUST get that mozzarella sandwich figured out!!

Okay, head on over to the other MKMW creations…we’re all cooking Italian Style!!

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