“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Zucchini Flowers

Ciao a tutti!! I hope everyone has been having a lovely and relaxing weekend.  I myself have been busy in the kitchen, as usual!!

A couple of days ago I was shopping on Fresh Direct, when I came across them. Yes, them. The food that changed my life forever. The food that I only for the first time tried last summer in Italy. I’m talking about…..zucchini flowers.

Zucchini flowers are very hard to come by and are only in season for a few months, so when I saw them, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase a few batches.

My mom had been telling me about these delicate, light blossoms for years. She herself first tried them in Italy and I had my chance last year. When we were in Rome, we ate them every day. They were on every menu, so I just wanted to make sure I got my fix. We had them stuffed, pan fried, on white pizza, you name it. But my favorite way to eat them was the classic stuffed and fried version, who can blame me? Because really, when you stuff something with cheese and fry it, how can that not be anything but amazing?!?! So, in honor of the zucchini flower (or squash blossom), I present…Fiori di Zucca.

Fiori di zucca

6 medium squash blossoms
2 cups Ricotta
1 tablespoon Italian parsley – chopped fine
1 tablespoon basil – chopped fine
Chopped garlic- Quanto basta
2 eggs
1 cup flour
Vegetable/Canola oil – enough to fry

Start off by cleaning them very well, they are extremely delicate so please be careful. Wash them with a spray of water and dry with a paper towel. Gently open the tips of the blossoms and pull out seeds or anything that doesn’t look too appealing. Set the blossoms aside.
Place a few inches of oil into a deep pot and heat.

Add the ricotta and herbs into a small bowl and mix well, season with salt and pepper.

Put the eggs into a small bowl and beat. Put the flour in a separate bowl. Set aside.

Very carefully pull back the tops of the blossoms and using a tiny spoon or a pastry bag, put enough of the ricotta mixture in to fill the blossom without tearing it. Twist the tops of the blossoms to seal. Continue until all blossoms are filled.

Dip the blossoms into the egg mixture and then coat with the flour. Tap off any excess flour. Continue until all blossoms are done.

Place blossoms into the heated oil and cook until golden, this should only take a few minutes, but stand by them to watch and see exactly how golden you like them. When done, transfer blossoms to a wire rack lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil and season lightly with salt while they’re still warm.

Please let me know if you have had zucchini flowers and what you think of them!! Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Healthy Italian Lifestyle

Our balcony overlooking the pool in Ischia, where I swam everyday

It's summer, which means that the odds are, if you’re a woman, at some point you went on a diet to look good in your bikini or little white dress. While I mostly write about all things food, I wanted to write about the healthy Italian lifestyle. Which brings me to this….

Last summer, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I had the pleasure of spending a month in Italy. My days were spent studying opera, shopping, relaxing, sight-seeing and eating. It was really la dolce vita or the sweet life. It was a magical time. I am so excited to say that I will be going back in just a few short months.

While in Italy, my mother and I ate some of the most delicious food we have ever had. Fresh pasta, thin crust pizza, moist mozzarella, bread right out of the oven, vegetables just picked, beans, homemade pastries, creamy gelato. We tried it all. As any young female on vacation though, before I left I was a little concerned about gaining some weight.

I have always led a very healthy lifestyle. I don’t drink or smoke. I eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables and limit my intake of meat and exercise 4-6 days a week. I wanted to try to maintain that lifestyle the best way that I could in Italy, while still getting to enjoy the food that this glorious country has to offer.

So we arrived in Italy. We were in Rome for a little less than a week. By the sixth day we were in Ischia and here’s the funny thing….. my shorts were looser. I went to Italy with them fitting perfectly and within a week they were too big. I was amazed. I had not been skimping on anything. I wanted to experience all of the food and I was! In Ischia my shorts continued to get loose. And then I realized that there was a reason for all of this.

The Italians do not really eat processed food. They do not use corn syrup. While they certainly do enjoy pasta, they use it as a first course, meaning there is a lot less of it. A typical serving of pasta in America is usually two to three times bigger than a recommended portion size. Italians eat fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and beans. A serving of gelato is also nothing like a serving of ice cream here. The large serving in Italy is really more of a medium over here and while that doesn’t sound like that big of a difference, every little thing adds up.  In Rome, everyone walks everywhere. That’s exactly what my mother and I did. We walked EVERYWHERE. Except for late at night when we took a cab back to our hotel, we walked everywhere. In Ischia, our hotel had the most beautiful outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees with a view of the mountains. I swam 20 laps every day, on top of taking walks up to four times a day with my mama.
I really took to the lifestyle (except for all the smoking of course.) I could do not believe that eating all of this tempting, wonderful food was resulting in weight loss! Here is an example of a typical day of eating while in Italy.

Breakfast: Yogurt, toast with nutella or cornetto with nutella (or another tempting pastry) and a cappuccino or frappe (a coffee milkshake, yes, I had milkshakes at breakfast!)  

Lunch: In Rome- A few slices of thin crust pizza with a side of fried vegetables, capresse salad or pasta.

In Ischia- Tarallis, pesto, beans, cheese and nuts

Dinner: In Rome- Fish with a side of vegetables, pasta or pizza and a few slices of bread

In Ischia- A few slices of pizza

Dessert: Two scoops of gelato (sometimes twice a day!!)

So as you can very well see, I was not depriving myself. Like any sort of lifestyle or diet, whatever you prefer to call it, it is all about moderation and getting in some exercise. You can have your gelato and eat it too!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Marketing Italian Style: Iavarone Brothers

Ciao lovely readers!! I am so sorry for being away, but between my computer not having service due to technical issues and being on vacation the past few weeks, it was pretty hectic and unfortunately, I was not able to continue with my blogging. But all is well and I’m back now!

As I mentioned, I’ve been away on vacation and just got back yesterday. So what was one of the first things I wanted to do this weekend? Why, market of course! Now, I am still pretty tired from the past few weeks. You know how they say you need a vacation from your vacation; I believe it to be true!

I knew I wanted a nice quiet weekend at home with some warm, cozy meals. So, instead of making an entirely homemade meal (please don’t be mad!) I decided to do the next best thing: go shopping at Iavarone Brothers.

Iavarone Brothers is truly a family run business and will hopefully keep part of its old world charm and stay that way. The store first opened its doors in Brooklyn in 1919 as the first Salciceria (sausage shop) run by Pasquale Iavarone. By 1951, Pasquale's sons, Joe and Jerry, took over. In the early seventies, a new generation, Pat and John, opened new stores and continued with the legacy. Several years later, their brother Joseph Jr. came into the family business. Now here’s the thing. Iavarone has four locations, all in New York. But….you can order online!!! Here is a link to the site: http://www.ibfoods.com/ Now you too can order some of the delicacies I’m about to tell you about!!

Iavarone Brothers is a wonderful store specializing in; you guessed it, Italian food! All homemade. You enter the store and you’re not sure where to start first. There is a section with fresh, crusty, fragrant bread. One full counter devoted to prepared specialties that vary from day to day, you will find chicken and eggplant parmigiana, fried vegetables, lasagna, stuffed shells.

Another part of the counter has different salads, pasta salads, olives, vegetables in vinegar, fish salads. There is a section full of fresh cheese and pesto. Another section with fresh pasta. The pasta selection is amazing. They have some of the most amazing homemade ravioli I have ever had and they offer a huge selection of different fillings; meat ravioli, spinach ravioli, lobster ravioli, truffle ravioli, mushroom ravioli. They of course have other pastas besides ravioli; gnocchi, cavatelli, tortellini, fettuccini. They have shelves filled with jarred peppers and vegetables in vinegar.
There is the butcher with house made sausages, steak, burgers, chicken cutlets and a section full of fresh fish. The selection is endless. If you are craving something Italian, odds are, at Iavarone, you will find it! On top of it, the service is wonderful. Friendly, patient and helpful.

Now, I know you’re wondering, what did I get? Well, the question is, what didn’t I get? Fresh mozzarella, ricotta salata, parmigiana, jarred peppers, olives, tomatoes, sausage, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, roasted Italian pork, taralles, fried vegetables, pesto, bread and ravioli. The beauty of this shop is that nothing needs to be done to spice this food up. If you are getting already prepared specialties, you will just want to warm them and enjoy! The only thing that I ordered that had to be prepared was the ravioli, which I made with some of the fresh tomatoes I purchased and some garlic. You will not be disappointed in the quality. Best. Raviolis. Ever.

The mozzarella is moist and buttery. The meatballs were tender and light. The fried vegetables crispy, not at all oily. The eggplant parmigiana was perfect. I find that eggplant parmigiana can be difficult. It can be too soggy and mushy to the point that you can’t even tell that you’re eating eggplant. But not at Iavarone. The eggplant is perfectly cooked, crisp, but not too crunchy like a cutlet, and layered with mozzarella and tomato sauce. The bread was delicious with a sesame crust. Perfect when dipped in some of the extra sauce from the meatballs. If you live in the New York area, I highly encourage you to hop on the train, bus, car, anything, so you can try some of this amazing food! If not, they have a site, so don’t feel too bad.

Christopher, Jonathan and Michele Iavarone are now the fourth generation to enter the family business and carry on eighty years of tradition. Here’s to eighty more! Cin Cin!