Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ristorante Al Focolare di Maddi in Fontana di Papa (Ariccia, Roma)

If you ever happen to drive on the Nettunense (the road that connects the road Appia to the cities of Anzio and Nettuno where the US troops landed to fight the Germans during WWII), you might want to stop at the Ristorante Al Focolare for a great meal experience. Maria Elena Achilli is the owner and cook and the restaurant features a number of Roman and Marchigian dishes. Their specialties are the appetizers, their home made pasta and sauces, and the grilled meat, particularly the ABBACCHIO SCOTTADITO (grilled lamb), which is one of my favorite entrees. I am lucky enough to live in close proximity to the restaurant so every time we have guests, we love to take them there for a great Italian eating experience. The restaurant is open only for lunch, with two evenings open for dinner (Friday and Saturday). It is recommended to call for a reservation and to check on their schedule (+39 06 937 4131) although the place can accommodate 130 people inside. If the weather is nice, it is great to eat outside where there are a few tables between the shade of the trees. They have internal parking and a small kids playground. The address is Via Piani di Santa Maria 93 or Nettunense Km 12,800 in Fontana di Papa (Ariccia, Roma).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Seafood in Anzio

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were finally able to go on a real date together. We chose as our destination the seaport of Anzio, about 12 miles from our home. Anzio is historically significant as it is the harbor where US troops and their allies landed during WWII to fight off Germans and Italians. We came here before for Gelato with our kids, but we were eager to try a small seafood restaurant that was recommended to us: La Fraschetta del Mare.

The restaurant offers a fixed-price menu (16 euros/person, which is not bad for seafood), which varies from time to time depending on what fish they can buy in the morning from the fishermen returning with their catch. It is located right on the harbor so you know they don't have to go far to get fresh fish. The type of cooking is based on the concept of Pesce Povero (poor fish), which means that this is not the top of the line seafood, but it is mostly whatever get trapped in the fishermen's net. However, if cooked properly, this also can be very tasty and presented well.

The eating experience include three courses: appetizers, a main dish, and a second dish. Drinks are extra (but we were lucky that the cashier did not have exact change so he gave us a nice discount and we ended up paying 15 euros each including drinks). Everyone gets the same things and this should make it for quick service and low prices. The place is small and quite popular so you are pretty much sitting elbow to elbow with other customers. Our appetizers included a small piece of fried polenta with a topping of black olives and anchovies, a cod meatball, couscous with a tomato and fish sauce and a small fish salad with fresh fennel and oranges.
Next they served us some pasta with tomato sauce and shellfish (shrimp, mussels, and clams). It was pretty tasty and it helped fill us up. The last dish included three small deep fried fishes, bruschetta with cod and tomato sauce, and some fish with zucchini that I can't remember the name.

Overall, it was a pleasant surprise and we will probably come back. It is definitely not a five star restaurant, but the price was adequate and we had plenty to eat.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Carciofi alla Romana (Roman Artichokes)

We have moved to Italy a month ago. It has been a really busy time during the past year and so and I neglected my food blog. I guess I had a million excuses for doing that... but for heaven's sake... WE ARE IN ITALY NOW! The world-capital of delicious food. I don't have any more excuses. Wherever I go, whatever I eat is worth building a lasting memory. So, here I am again... after a long silence, I am ready to repent from the slack and resume my food journal. And since we now live in Rome, what better start than the original CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA?

Roman artichokes are smaller and with no thorns. They are rounder and I would also say they might be a little more tender. We bought ten of them for 5 euros from a guy selling them from a truck parked on the side of the road. I would think this recipe would work for any kind of artichoke.

1. Fresh whole artichokes
2. Fresh parsley
3. Fresh garlic
4. Olive oil
5. Chicken broth
6. White wine (optional)

Remove a couple layers of outer leaves and cut about 1/4-1/2 inch from the top. Roll the artichokes on a hard surface until they become a little more lose and tender, enough to stuff them in the middle. Chop the fresh parsley and mince the garlic. Mix them and stuff a spoonful inside each artichoke. In a large pan, place oil, broth, and wine. Place each artichoke face down in the pan, cover and cook at low/medium heat until artichokes are tender (use a fork to poke them). Enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Apple Fritters (Frittelle di Mele)

This recipe was shared by my good friend Arianna. Frittelle are a traditional treat Italians make or buy during the month of February, when celebrating the Carnival Season. After kids play with each other dressed-up with traditional customs (such as Arlecchino, Pulcinella, etc.) and throwing coriandoli (this is the Italian word for confetti) and stelle filanti, they return hungry at home where their mothers feed them with Chiacchere and Fritelle.

- Four cups of white flour;
- 1 Tbsp of white granulated sugar;
- 2 Large eggs;
- 2 Cups of warm milk;
- 3 Apples;
- 2 Tbsp yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water;
- A pinch of salt;
- Canola oil to fry.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Mix sifted flour with sugar and salt. Add eggs and the yeast solution. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the flat beater for the whole mixing thing. Peel and slice apples in small pieces. Add apples to mix. Add warm milk slowly. Continue mixing until you obtain a fluffy and smooth dough that is quite sticky (almost the same consistency of pancake mix). Cover the bowl with a dumped towel and let it rest until it doubles in size at room temperature (ca. 30 minutes).

Heat oil in large frying pan or wok. Place a small piece of bread in oil to see if it is frying. When the piece of bread turns golden-brown, the oil is ready. Dip a metal spoon in a glass of cold water and scoop a spoonful of the soft dough into the hot oil. The dough should come off quite easy from the wet spoon. Dip the spoon each time prior to scoop up the though. Place few fritter in the oil at the time making sure they are floating in a single layer. Make sure the oil is not too hot or it will burn the outside of the fritters while the inside will still be raw. When the fritters are golden brown on one side, flip them with a wooden spoon or a slotted spoon or spatula. When ready, remove fritters carefully and place them on a dish or bowl covered with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle the fritters with additional granulated cane sugar and enjoy them when they are still warm.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Risotto Quattro Formaggi

Here is a simple but very tasty recipe, one of my family's favorites! Risotto can be made in many different ways and I might post other variants in the future. The basic recipe can be used to make ARANCINI.

For risotto, you need to have Arborio rice. You can find small packages of this type of rice in the pasta/rice aisle at Wal-mart. It is a bit more expensive than regular sticky rice, but you have not much choice as you won't be able to get the needed texture with any other kind of rice.

For four people:
- a small finely chopped onion or 1/4 cup of dry onion;
- 1/2 stick of butter;
- 2 cups of Arborio rice
- 1 cup of white cooking wine;
- salt and pepper to taste;
- 4 oz (half a box) cream cheese;
- 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese;
- 4 slices of finely sliced Provolone cheese (you can find it at Costco or Harmons);
- 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese;
- 2 bullion cubes;
- hot water;
- 1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream (optional).

In a large sauce pan melt butter and saute onion until golden on medium heat. In the meantime, in another pan boil some water, cover, and keep at hand. Add rice to the first pan with onion and butter. Stir well and add cooking wine and bullion cubes. Keep stirring. When the wine is absorbed, add a cup of the boiling water. Keep stirring and keep adding water as it is absorbed by the rice. The consistency has to be somewhat cream. Don't let the rice stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the rice is "al dente", add the four cheeses and a couple tablespoons of butter. Keep stirring until all cheese has melted. Serve immediately. Preparation time ca. 45 minutes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chocolate Cake with Butter Frosting

This recipe was given to me by my good friend Melissa. It was a huge hit. Delicious and nutritious (if nutritious means tons of calories). At the end the whole thing had four sticks of butter in it. Wow. Never had anything before that taste so chocolaty. Love it! Love it! Love it! I can't wait to make it again.

For the cake batter:
- 6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips (or dark chocolate);
- 9 oz. granulated sugar;
- 6 eggs, divided;
- 9 oz. (two sticks) of unsalted butter;
- 1 cup white flour.

Melt chocolate with butter (either in the microwave or on a double boiler). Add sugar and yokes, one at the time. Mix well. Add flour and mix. Whip egg whites and fold them into the batter gently. Bake in a round cake pan for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chocolate butter frosting:
- 9 oz. (two sticks) of unsalted butter;
- 5 oz. powder sugar;
- 9 oz. semisweet chocolate chips (or dark chocolate);
- 3 yokes.

Let butter stand at room temperature until it is soft, usually 30 minutes. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or on a double boiler. Mix half of the sugar with the butter until you obtain a smooth thick cream. In another bowl mix the egg yokes with the rest of the sugar, until your mix is smooth and silky. Mix the two creams together, ensuring that there are not lumps. Mix in the warm melted chocolate until you have a smooth chocolate cream.

You should prepare the frosting when the cake is baked and cooled down. Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Decorate each slice with a touch of whipped cream. Enjoy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

La Cassola!

Cazzuola o Cassola (lit. "casserole") is a pork-and-cabbage-base dish typical of Brianza, a very beautiful hilly area north of Milan and between the two branches of Como's Lake (Lago di Como). Every time I visited my parents, my mother would prepare this family favorite for everyone. Now that my future visits to Italy are quite uncertain, I have decided to experiment in the kitchen and see if I could make it myself. I made it twice in the past month and both times it turned out excellent, which means, according to science, that it was no accident and that I can actually duplicate my initial success. :) The difficulty with this dish lays in finding the ingredients and in the amount of time they need to cook. Besides that, it is not very complicate to make and the final results is a true feast for all your taste buds. It is a dish that require faith also. The ingredients and process may not be very stimulating at first (my wife comment when she first saw me making it was: "...and we are going to eat THAT?!?!"). However, when I pulled it out from the oven and she tried some, I could not keep her away from it! The photos with this blog entry are from last week preparation, which was for a large dinner we had Sunday. The quantity of ingredients I used was for at least 12 adults (about 2-3 times the normal recipe for 4-6 people). So, the recipe I am describing here will serve 4 to 6, not the amount you see in the photos.

- Large slab of adult pork ribs (half rack)
- One package (5-6) fresh pork bratwursts
- One pig foot cut in two halves (don't freak out yet)
- 4-5 pieces of pork neck bones (OK, you can freak out now) :)
- One small onion
- 3 carrots
- 4 celery stalks
- One cup of white cooking wine
- One large green cabbage
- Half stick of butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 Bullion cubes (optional)

Rinse the pig foot and place it in a large pot with the neck bones. Fill the pot with cold water until all pieces are covered and boil for one hour. I found pig feet and neck bones at Wal-mart in the fresh meat section. They are both fairly inexpensive (duh! - who really buys this stuff?!?!). The pig feet I got came already cleaned, halved, 5 pieces per tray (which is what I needed for the amount I was preparing). For the regular recipe you can boil two halves and freeze the rest, or boil all of them together for extra rich pork stock. My mother keeps the pig foot with the rest of the meat as my grandfather loves it. In my case, after the pork stock was ready, I only kept the neck bones (rich of meat) and got rid of the feet. The traditional recipe would ask for cotenna (pig skin) boiled with the pig foot. The boiling turns them into a tasty gelatin, but I just can't get myself to like the texture. That is why I replaced the skin with the neck bones. The end product is a rich, flavorful, and thick pork stock to be used for cooking the ribs, sausages, and cabbage.

In another large pot, melt the butter over medium heat with the finely chopped onion, until golden. Cut the meat as to have single rib pieces and cook with butter and onion. When the ribs are lightly brown, pour wine and keep cooking until it evaporates. Add finely chopped carrots and celery. Stir as to ensure all the ribs are cooking evenly. Chop the cabbage in large chunks, removing and disposing of the stem (the cabbage will eventually cook down to nothing, releasing much fluid to the juice). Add to ribs. Poke the bratwursts with a fork 3-4 times, cut them in three pieces, and place them with the cabbage and ribs. Add 3-4 cups of the pork stock, the halved foot (one or two pieces) and the neck bones). Cover and let it cook on low heat for another hour. From time to time, move the pieces of meat around as to ensure they cook evenly. If necessary, add more pork stock (you can then freeze the rest for soups). Add salt and pepper to taste.

After about one hour, transfer the content of the pot in one large oven Pyrex pan (9x13). For a more flavorful dish, you can crumble 2-3 small Bullion cubes on the top of the meat. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 300 for another hour. After about half hour, check to ensure that the meat on the top is not getting too dry. Use a spoon to pour some of the juice on the top or move meat around carefully. Continue to cook until the meat is basically falling off the bones. I like my meat well done so I tend to cook it a little longer. Remove foil if you desire your meat a little more dry (which provides a contrast to the more juicer pieces at the bottom of the pan).

Cassola is traditionally served on a bed of Polenta (corn mash), which can be prepared about 5 minutes before serving the meat. (Note that in the picture I am only showing one of the two Pyrex pans I obtained with the larger amount of ingredients I used for my dinner. One Pyrex pan should be sufficient for the amount of ingredients listed for this blog entry).