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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Breakfast in Bed: The Valentine's Day Edition...so the second you wake up, you know your sweetheart remembered!!"

Okay guys...I want you to decide what I'll be making for "Breakfast in Bed: The Valentine's Day Edition...so the second you wake up, you know your sweetheart remembered!!" Head over to my La Cucina Prima Donna Facebook page and cast your vote today!! It's between Tiramisu Pancakes and Cannoli Pancakes...who will win in this epic battle? You decide. The poll will be pinned to the top of the page!! May the best pancake win!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Ciao a tutti!! My Cioccolata Calda post was such a success, I figured we were due for another delicious Italian drink! So, what better than a cappuccino? Cappuccino is an Italian coffee prepared with espresso, hot milk and steamed milk foam. Mmmmmm….foam.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa, like I often do!

In Italy, Cappuccino is traditionally consumed early in the day as part of breakfast. So, if you are traveling to Italy and you don’t want to stand out as an obvious tourist, drink your cappuccino before noon!! You’ve been warned.

I loved starting my mornings with a nice, hot and foamy cappuccino. Our hotel prepared fresh cappuccinos to order which was a real treat; I really looked forward to them.  Now that I’m home, I prepare cappuccinos as well. It’s not the same as drinking them in Italy, but until I return at the end of the year, it will just have to do! I've prepared two versions for you. Neither is prepared with a cappuccino machine, because while I have a cappuccino machine, I understand that most people don’t because they’re not as food obsessed!! One is traditional cappuccino and one is a paleo cappuccino. Buon Appetito!!

Traditional Cappuccino

1 cup of milk
1 tsp. sugar
1 ½ cups of strong brewed Italian coffee (I like illy)

Add milk and sugar to a microwave safe mug and heat slowly until nice and hot. Take it out of the microwave and using an electric whisk, whisk until it is frothy.
Pour heated coffee into a separate mug and top with the foamy milk.

Paleo Cappuccino

1 cup of almond milk
1 ½ cups of strong brewed Italian coffee (I like illy)

Add milk to a microwave safe mug and heat slowly until nice and hot. Take it out of the microwave and using an electric whisk, whisk until it is frothy.
Pour heated coffee into a separate mug and top with the foamy milk. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon if you like!! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Lighter Side of Italy

When you think of Italian food, visions of gelato, pizza, cheese and pastries dance in your head, right? Well, maybe that’s just me. Seriously, when people think of this food, they think of heavy, cheesy and calorie laden meals. But I have always wanted to change that idea. Italian food can be very healthy; you just have to know how to eat it and how much of it to eat.

When I was in Italy, I didn’t really eat all that differently than I do when I’m at home. My lunches and dinners started with a grilled vegetable plate with zucchini, eggplants and peppers or a beautiful salad with arugula and tomatoes. My mother and I usually shared one pasta, pizza or meat entrée. 

The thing in Italy is, pasta is not a main course. It is an appetizer. So when it comes to the table, don’t expect a huge bowl filled, if you order ravioli, you’ll probably get four. Pizza is made with a very thin crust, as opposed to all those thick crusts with the extra calories. Plus, all the food that I eat is prepared with natural, wholesome ingredients. Yes, there is cheese, chocolate and bread. But cheese in its purest form, bread, made with ingredients that you can actually pronounce. 

So, I want to share a few of the dishes that I enjoyed while in Italy and I hope it will inspire you to get on board with Healthy Italian La Dolce Vita Lifestyle!!

Spinach with Lemon

1 pound of baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. lemon zest, grated

Start off by rinsing the spinach in cold water. Spin it in a salad clean to ensure that it is mostly dry. In a deep pot, heat olive oil and chopped garlic over medium heat, for around two minutes. Add the spinach, salt, pepper and toss. Cook for around 5 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Use a slotted spoon to serve spinach and top with freshly grated lemon zest. Buon Appetito!!

Grilled Vegetable Antipasto

3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into sticks
2 zucchini, cut into sticks
1 large eggplant, cut into sticks
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced

Prepare a grill pan over medium heat. Add your sliced vegetables into a bowl and brush with the olive oil, salt, pepper and minced garlic. Begin grilling the vegetables in batches, depending on how big your pan is. All together, it should take around 30 minutes to grill.

Chicory with Lemon

2 heads of chicory (outer ribs discarded and the remainder cut into 2 inch pieces)
¼ cup of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. red pepper
1 tsp. salt
Lemon juice(quanto basta!)

Wash the chicory. Cook in boiling salted water. Stir, until tender for around 5 minutes. Drain.

In another pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook garlic with red pepper, but don’t let it burn! Add the chicory, stirring until most of the liquid had evaporated, for around 4 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of salt and a little lemon juice!!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cioccolata Calda- Italian Hot Chocolate

Buongiorno!! Ahhhh, breakfast in Italy. That lovely time when you wake up, pop out of bed and you’re excited for another day of sight-seeing and delicious eat. You get ready and go out for that much need cappuccino (or Cioccolata Calda). I was in Rome and Florence over this past winter and it was pretty cold, I must say. But as long as you have a good warm coat and lined boots, you should be fine. And of yeah, a cup of something nice and warm.


Breakfast in Italy is not at all what you have probably come to think of breakfast. At least, not an American style breakfast. Italians do not eat eggs and bacon or pancakes and waffles; they make have a cornetto or a cup of yogurt. Half of the time, they just have a cappuccino. (By the way, NEVER have a cappuccino after 12 noon; they will know you are a tourist). Italians consider a cappuccino a morning drink and that’s it!! When we were in Rome, our breakfast was included with the room price and we lucked out. Our hotel served fresh cornettos, fruit and yogurt and cappuccinos made to order that were perfecto!!


In Florence however, we went out for breakfast every day. In Italy also, when you go someplace for coffee or a pastry, expect to pay one price if you stand at the counter and drink it and more if you sit and get table service. We found a place right off of Piazza della Signoria that had the most amazing Cioccolata Calda!! It was rich, creamy and intense. It was like drinking melted chocolate. The coco is so intense over there, that they serve it with a pack of sweetener on the side, that you can choose to use or not use. Every morning in Florence I had a Cioccolata Calda for breakfast, it was just delicious.


Now that I am back home, I treat myself to an Italian hot chocolate a few times a week. It’s either the perfect way to start a day or the perfect way to top off a chilly New York night. I have created two versions. One classic version made with milk and for those on a low carb diet, one made with almond milk. Forget what you think you know about hot chocolate, this, is hot chocolate! Please let me know what you think. Buon Appetito!!


Traditional Cioccolata Calda with Cream


4 ounces of good quality dark chocolate (70% or higher, I personally prefer 85%)

1 ½ cups of whole milk

1 tbsp. of cream

2 tsp. sugar

2 tbsp. corn starch


Add your milk and cream to a pot over medium heat and let it heat, but not boil. Add the chocolate and sugar and mix until melted and smooth. Add the cornstarch and continue to mix. Stir until everything is smooth and creamy!! Pour into mugs and serve with a dollop of homemade whipped cream….


Whipped Cream


1 cup of cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract


Add the cream and vanilla extract to a small bowl and whisk with an electric beater until it looks like whipped cream.


Paleo Cioccolata Calda


1 cup of almond milk or coconut milk

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 ounce dark chocolate (85% is best for paleo)

1 tsp. chocolate extract


Add you milk to a pot over medium heat and let it heat, not boil. Add the cocoa powder and let it dissolve. Add the dark chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add the chocolate extract and let heat until creamy. Pour into a mug and a dollop of whipped cream. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Sweets of Roma: Tortine di Nutella

Ciao a tutti!! When you’re in Italy, you can’t NOT have candy and pastries. I mean, it’s kind of a law. Well, it’s not, but still. It really should be. Something I love about Italian sweets is how different the flavors are from the ones we have in America. In America it’s all about cookie dough and cookies and cream, in Italy, nut and fruit flavors are very popular. 

I've never seen a Chestnut Torta in a bakery, except when I’m in Italy. I’m a big fan of nutty flavors, so everything topped with pistachios, walnuts, almonds, pignolis and chestnuts is a nice surprise for me. I’m telling you….just looking in the windows of the bakeries was a treat. So, I thought it would be fun to post a Pastry Photo Tour of Roma!! I've also added recipes that I've tried and tested that were the closest to the actual experience. I'll be posting a new pastry recipes/photo every few days inspired by the beautiful pastries I enjoyed while in Roma. And in a few days, a Pastry/Gelato Photo Tour of Firenze! 

But for today....Tortine di Nutella. That's right. Nutella. Who doesn't love nutella? I'm not sure I should tell you how many of these babies I ate while in Italy. Honestly....I had one almost every night. I'm not even kidding. Clearly, I love nutella, as you may recall from my Nutella Chronicle Post. Every bakery has their own take on this classic tart, so I figured it was only fair to try everyone's version!! Right?!?! These are little flaky shortbread tartlets filled with a deep and rich nutella ganache. 

They. Are. Amazing. No lie. Enjoy and please let me know what you think!! 

Tortine di Nutella

Buttery Shortbread Pastry Crust

2 cups all purpose flour
14 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. chilled heavy cream
1 tsp. salt

In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, egg, sugar, heavy cream and salt and pulse until the dough gathers into big clumps.  Put the dough on a clean counter surface that is lightly floured and gather it together. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough. You can use whatever size tart pans you like, piccolo, medio or grande. Press the tart pans into the dough for your crust. Put them in the oven on 300 degrees and cook for 6 minutes. They will not be completely done, but you will be baking them again when filled with the nutella. Now prepare your nutella ganache...

Nutella Ganache 

1 cup of nutella
4 ounces of good quality milk chocolate, I like to use Perugina chocolate bars
1/2 cup heavy cream
Chopped Hazelnuts to top the tarts

Prepare the nutella and chocolate in a small mixing bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Add the nutella and chocolate to the heavy cream and mix until silky and smooth. Now get the tart/tartlet crusts (whatever size you picked) and carefully spoon the nutella into the crust. Put back in the oven on 300 degrees and bake for another 6 minutes. Take out and add the chopped hazelnuts to top of the tarts. Boun Appetito!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Taralli Baresi

Ciao a tutti!! One of my favorite things about being in Italy is getting to experience all of the amazing, wonderful food that Italy has to offer. Fresh mozzarella. Plump and juicy tomatoes. And tarallis. What are tarallis? Well…I’ll tell you!

Tarallis are an Italian biscotti that were introduced centuries ago in the Puglia region of Italy. A lot of people refer to them as the Italian pretzel because of their shape and crunchy texture. It’s a cross between a biscuit, a cookie and a pretzel.
When I was in Italy the first time, I had the most amazing Tarallis, they were these huge round braided twists filled with almonds. I never thought I would be able to eat REAL Italian tarallies again until I returned to Italy. Until now.

I had the chance to try the Fennel Tarallis from Taralli Baresi. WOW!! They were just like the ones I had in Italy. I put them out for a party because I wanted a few opinions. My mother said they reminded her of one’s she had when she was a child, growing up in a very Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were so crunchy and flavorful and the flavor of the fennel was perfect, not too much to be overpowering and not too little that you couldn’t taste it. They are perfect accompanied with a glass of wine.

I strongly suggest you take a look at the site and see all of the delicious flavors that they offer and get on it really quickly!! These babies are AMAZING!! And while you're at it, go show them a little love on facebook and take a look at the pictures of the yummy tarallis right here!  Ciao for now! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chef Chat: Melissa Muller Daka of Eolo

Ciao a tutti!! I am so honored and excited to introduce you to Melissa Muller Daka, Chef-Proprietor of the wonderful Sicilian restaurant Eolo in New York City. I was lucky enough to meet Melissa at a luncheon held at Eataly for Planeta Wines and she was gracious as to answer some of my questions. Enjoy!

Your menu is centered on Sicilian cuisine. For those that might not know the difference, what makes Sicilian food different then other regions of Italy? 

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with over five million inhabitants, and is divided into nine provinces: Palermo, Trapani, Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Enna, Catania, Messina, Ragusa and Siracusa. Within the provinces, every city and town has their own traditional set of recipes. Iconic Sicilian dishes, such as caponata and pasta with sardines, vary in preparation from village to village.

From the beginning, Sicily has been a cultural crossroads, inhabited by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, Jews, Normans, Bourbons and beyond. Sicilian food has kept several techniques, recipes and ingredients from each ethnic group and incorporated them into its own. In any given dish, foods first introduced to Sicily during the Greek and Arabic periods might accompany other ingredients of New World origin, making the cuisine a reflection of the island’s history and its many ethnic inhabiters.

Certain themes can indeed be identified to provide a universal description of Sicilian food. Rolled meat and seafood dishes, known as involtini, are prevalent in the island’s cuisine. Also, dishes that are flavored with agrodolce, a mixture of vinegar and sugar, are also common because vinegar is used to preserve food. In English, this typical Sicilian taste is often referred to as sweet and sour, but agrocolce is actually more sour than sweet. Sometimes, agrodolce, is added to dishes that contain tomato sauce, such as eggplant caponata, while other times it is  used to flavor fried vegetables or meat and seafood dishes. 

Seafood is found in all forms in the coastal areas of Sicily. Anchovies and sardines are preserved in salt and used in pasta dishes and in antipasti. Tuna is also preserved in olive oil and its eggs are fermented into a delicacy known as bottarga. Swordfish, octopus, squid, shrimp, mullet, branzino, sea urchin, clams and mussels are among some of the other fruits of the Mediterranean Sea found on the Sicilian table.

Other characteristic elements of Sicilian food include the use of both cultivated and wild herbs and the use of nuts, such as pine nuts, almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts, which are used in savory and sweet dishes alike. Also, olive trees are cultivated in abundance in Sicily, making olive oil the fat of choice in cooking. Butter and cream, which are used in some Northern Italian cuisines, are rarely part of Sicilian cooking. Citrus fruits are a staple of the island. Lemons, oranges, citrons and mandarins are not only eaten when in season, but are preserved in liquors and made into sorbets. Finally, cheese is used in abundance, and even paired with seafood, which is considered taboo in most other regions of Italy. Cheese-making has existed in Sicily since the time of the Greeks and is still prevalent today. Ricotta, a by-product of cheese, is also used in both sweet and savory dishes.

A good portion of the Sicilian recipes that Americans are familiar with are peasant dishes, which were first introduced by Sicilian immigrants over a century ago. But Sicily also possesses a legacy of opulent aristocratic cuisine, which was elaborate and ornate in taste and presentation. Interestingly, some popular peasant foods, such as sardines prepared in the beccafico style, are copies of dishes once prepared in kitchens of aristocratic families. That sardine dish in particular, was once prepared with little birds, known as beccafici, but since the recipe was costly to prepare, peasants re-created it with sardines, flipping up the bottom of the fish tail to resemble the tail of the bird.  Additionally, there is a fascinating array of nut and ricotta-based sweet recipes that were passed down for centuries in the cloistered convents, which once dotted the island’s landscape. Until today, many of the elaborate sweets that originated in these convents are coveted and considered secret recipes. Therefore, I strongly disagree with the many food writers who describe Sicilian food as “simple.”  Indeed, many classic dishes are straightforward and prepared with no more than two or three ingredients, but others are complicated (just look at the ornate cassata cake as one example) and require a great deal of time to prepare with skill. 

A lot of people love Italian food, as a matter of fact, you have to look hard to find people who don’t like it, what do you think it is about Italian food that makes people enjoy it so much and brings everyone together?

I think the answer to that question can vary. There are an abundance of Italian-Americans in the United States, many of whom are descendants of immigrants who came here during the Mass Wave of Immigration in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. For those of us who grew up in Italian households, patronizing an Italian restaurant might be a way to taste flavors that spark memories from our childhoods. I can surely attest that a good portion of my customers here at Eolo are in search of dishes that their Sicilian grandmothers once prepared for them.
For those who are not of Italian descent, many Americans have travelled to Italy, and eat in Italian restaurants because they are familiar with the cuisine. But the abundant popularity of Italian foods around the country has made the cuisine popular even to those who have no connection or who have never travelled to Italy.
Italian food is full of carbs and is filling. Rarely does one leave an Italian restaurant with an empty stomach. Finally, our cuisine also pairs well with red wine. All in all, the pastas, breads, herbs, flavors and cheeses of Italy are comforting; when prepared well, it is food that makes not only your stomach, but your heart and mind feel at home.

When I was little I loved playing with fake food and would set up a fake restaurant and I always enjoyed going to fancy restaurants with my parents. Were there any signs like that that you knew you were meant to be a chef?

By the time I was four, I was a regular sous-chef in my mother Josephine’s kitchen. The spark that ignited my love of food was kindled in the kitchens of my Sicilian cousins’ homes as a child and subsequently in my mother’s New Jersey kitchen where we recreated authentic Sicilian flavors. I had a “restaurant” in my backyard clubhouse named Melissa’s Place. I still have a copy of the menu I typed up when I was about ten-years-old. I used to invite kids from the neighborhood to stop in for a bite. Rather than serve fake food, I prepared  salads from foraged dandelions and made other improvised dishes with vegetables picked from my mother’s garden.

What is your signature dish and could you please share the recipe with us?
 That’s difficult. Because I don’t actually have one signature dish. However, many people ask me for the recipe for the ricotta doughnuts that I serve for dessert at Eolo. My grandmother, Frances, taught me this recipe, and she learned it from her mother.
As for the history of sfinci, a 19th century Sicilian historian, Michele Amari, claimed that sfinci were first introduced to Sicily by the Arabs in the 10th century. On the other hand, Sicilian culinary historian, Pino Correnti, purports that sfinci are derived from a type of sweet that the ancient pagan inhabitants of the island made to welcome the arrival of the winter solstice. In either scenario, the sfinci have been a part of Sicilian cuisine for centuries.Today, in Sicily, sfinci are often made in the spring, when the ricotta is fresh. They are a common staple sweet for the Feast of Saint Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian), which is celebrated on March 19th.

At Eolo, I stuff the sfinci with an orange pastry cream and make a chocolate-Kahlua sauce to dip the warm fritters in.

Sfinci Batter

For 1 1/2 quarts of batter

  6 Eggs
         1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 lbs. Ricotta
       1 Pint + 1/8 Cup AP Flour
         1 Tablespoon +1 teaspoon baking powder

1.   In a kitchen aid, paddle eggs, vanilla and sugar for 5 minutes on medium
2.   Add Ricotta and paddle until incorporated.
3.   Add Flour and baking powder and mix just until incorporated. Make sure not to over-beat.
 Orange-Vanilla Pastry Cream

Single Order:
     1 Quart Milk
227 Grams Sugar
  71 Grams Cornstarch
15 Egg Yolks
     1 Vanilla Bean
Orange Extract to Taste

1.   Bring Milk to simmer in a large, tall heavy bottom stainless teel pot.
2.   Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and yolks to smooth.
3.   Temper egg mixture and return to pot.
4.   Stir constantly until bubbles appear. Turn down heat and cook for 5  minutes.
5.   When thick, pour into a hotel pan and cover with plastic wrap immediately.

Warm Kahlua & Chocolate Sauce


1 Quart Half and Half
3 Cups Sugar
120 Grams Butter
5 lbs. 66% Chocolate
1 Cup Kahlua
2 teas. Vanilla Extract

1.      Bring half and half, sugar and butter to a simmer
2.      Add chocolate and stir until dissolved.
3.      Off heat, add Kahlua and vanilla extract.
4.      Mix well.

I saw that you offer gluten free pasta choices on your menu which is a fantastic for those with gluten allergies. A lot of Italian food centers around pasta, risotto, bread and pizza, what inspired you to add this feature to your menu?

My restaurants are gluten-free-friendly, meaning that I make sure to train my kitchen and wait staff about gluten (and other) allergies, and take measures to ensure that those who cannot eat gluten can safely dine in my establishments. Nearly one year ago, I myself discovered that my body cannot tolerate eating gluten. More and more customers lately are also getting the same diagnosis from their doctors. I understand first-hand how important it is to offer dishes that are wheat-free. While I can taste foods that contain gluten while cooking, I surely cannot eat a whole bowl of pasta anymore. For someone who was used to eating a serving of penne at lunch everyday, I’ve had to adapt to gluten-free pasta. As opposed to popular belief, I must admit that there are some really good gluten-free pasta brands on the market. I especially enjoy the penne from Bionaturae. I’ve also adapted several meat and seafood dishes, removing the gluten from the recipes.
At Eolo, all of our pasta sauces are available with gluten-free penne or spaghetti and we make a point to cook the pasta in separate water so it is not contaminated from the semolina flour used in our regular house-made pasta. At Pastai, my new pasta bar (scheduled to open in late January), I will offer house-made gluten-free pasta options as well. I’m hard at work now developing my own recipe with a  combination of brown rice flour and potato starch. The pasta will be made on a machine dedicated to gluten-free pastas.

Food can transport me to another time and make me remember something wonderful. I am always talking about my Nonna’s fried cauliflower and what beautiful memories I have of her making it for me. What are some of your favorite food memories?

My childhood summers spent in Sant’Anna, a small village in the province of Agrigento, revolved around food. In fact, the majority of social activities involved cooking or preserving food. I helped my cousins bottle tomato sauce and prepare marmalade with the summer fruits. After food preparations, we would bathe in the mineral-rich spring water gebbia, or pool, on my cousins’ farmland. Around the concrete structure, arid calcium-rich soil baked in the summer sun. The scirocco, or hot winds from Africa, caused the olive leaves to rustle in the wind, sounding much like the hissing sounds that snakes make. After bathing, we walked around the property and picked leftover winter citrus fruits from the trees and then stayed in the country until dark, baking anchovy-laced pizzas in wood-burning ovens for the entire family to enjoy. 
In the evenings, I spent time with my friends from the town. Some nights we strolled up and down the piazza, stopping every so often for a cone of creamy gelato or a pastry. Other nights, we drove down to the beach and ate mussels, sea urchin and fresh-caught octopus, boiled and drizzled with lemon juice. Every year, on August 15th, for the festival of the Assumption of Mother Mary - a national holiday called Ferragosto in Italy - we setup tents on the beach and  ignited bonfires, on which we grilled marinated lamb chops, fennel-ridden sausage and chicken segments.  I’m currently writing a cookbook about Sicilian cuisine, which will include many more stories about such food memories, along with recipes.

Are any of the recipes from your restaurant family recipes? And if so, who are they from? 

Sfinci (ricotta doughnuts) from my grandmother
Manicotti from my grandmother
Pasta with Sardines from my cousin Maria in Sicily
Pasta al Forno - also from my cousin Maria in Sicily

What's a favorite meal that you might cook for yourself on quiet evening at home? 

Owning a restaurant, writing a book and working seven days a week, the reality is that there is no such thing as a quiet evening at home. I do, however, cook for my husband and me in the restaurant kitchen. I often use whatever seasonal produce I have on hand from the farmer who supplies Eolo and make vegetable medleys. We eat very healthy food that nourishes the body and soul, avoiding foods with GMOs, pesticides, refined sugar, conventional meat and dairy.

Eolo is Italian for Aeolus, the ruler of the wind, what's the significance behind that name for you?

This is what I recently posted to the home page of Eolo’s website about the significance of the name Eolo:
Beyond the mythological tale of Aeolus, I chose to name my Sicilian restaurant after the ruler of the wind when brainstorming about my sensory memories of childhood summers spent in Sicily. The first thoughts that came to mind were about the scorching sun, the shooting stars of mid-August, the taste of the salt when swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, and especially the wind, which carries the hot scirocco breeze from Africa in those warmer months. That wind used to visit me in my room like a long-awaited visitor during the desert-like hot summers. After devouring our daily mid-day pranzo of pasta, meat, salad, fruit, and dessert, I often followed the custom of retiring to bed for a nap before heading off to the beach or countryside. The sweet warm breeze carried the scents of bread baking at the nearby panificio, dried grass being burned to fertilize the soil, and garlic and herbs from my neighbors’ kitchens. All of these smells arrived at my balcony window with the help of my imaginary friend, Eolo.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bella Roma: Part Due; Shopping and Pasta all Norma

Ciao a tutti! Every time we travel, we make a point of leaving a few days to just wander so we don’t get too overwhelmed, I think this is usually a pretty smart choice, at least for us. So, today we decided to walk and browse in and out of some shops. My mother always told me about a department store that she went to on her first trip to Italy with her best friend when they were younger. The store is called Upim. It is basically the Italian equivalent or a Target or JCPenney. My mother and I found it on my first trip in the summer of 2011 and I was very eager to get back. This Store is so much fun!! They have clothing, makeup, accessories, home décor, jewelry…pretty much anything that women love!

I love shopping in Italy and getting brands and designers that are not available in this country, I know that may seem silly, but I get a kick out of it. I especially love buying Italian makeup and shoes! Unfortunately at Upim, you're not allowed to take pictures, so I have none to share with you. Now, enough about the shopping, let’s get to the reason why I’m here: FOOD!! 

After all that shopping, we worked up a good appetite. On our last trip, we were lucky enough to find a little outdoor café just a couple of blocks from Upim, so we decided to have lunch there again, we even had the exact same meal.

Fried Zucchini Flowers, my weakness
Pasta all Norma and a few Fried Zucchini Flowers. You just can’t go wrong. Pasta alla Norma is a favorite of mine. I love eggplant, so the chance to pair it with pasta and  ricotta salata…..mmmmmm. And it doesn’t hurt that it is also named after Vincenzo Bellini’s opera, “Norma.” The story goes that in the 19th century, Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian writer, poet and theatre director, was so impressed when he first tasted the dish that he compared it to “Norma,” Bellini’s masterpiece. It is a classic Sicilian dish from Catania, a city on the east coast of Sicily.

If you haven’t tried Pasta all Norma, I highly recommend it. What can I say? It’s just a wonderful dish. I hope you enjoy my version, please let me know what you think!

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma. Doesn't it look yummy?!?

2 medium eggplants- cut into little cubes (you pick exactly how little)
7 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & Pepper (quanto basta!)
Onion- minced
1 tbsp. red pepper
4 cloves of garlic-minced
1 large can of tomatoes (I always use San Marzano tomatoes, in my opinion, they’re just the best!)
Handful of fresh basil
1 pound of rigatoni
1 cup of ricotta salata

Preheat your over to 400 degrees. Put the eggplant in a bowl and drizzle with 4 tbsp. olive oil. Add salt and pepper and toss. Put the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast for around 20 minutes or until lightly caramelized, but not burnt!!

Heat the remaining oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, around 10 minutes. Add red pepper and garlic; continue cooking until the garlic softens. Add tomatoes, some of the basil, salt and cook for around 6-7 minutes.

Boil some water for the pasta. Once it is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente, around 9 minutes. Drain pasta and add to the tomato mix. Stir in the eggplant and toss, add the remaining basil and a little salt. Garnish with ricotta salata. As always, I LOVE to hear what you have to say! Boun Appetito!!