Tag Archives: Pasta

What you might be surprised to know about eating in Italy

Cappuccino

Drinking a cappuccino in Venice

Guys, I went to Italy. And there’s really no other way to put it except to say that I fell in love with it. Just like everyone said I would. If you’ve never been, you’re probably envisioning incredible pizza with fire crackling in wood burning ovens, romantic glasses of prosecco consumed outside on cobblestone streets, giant bowls of homemade pastas carefully crafted by little old grandmas in 500 year old kitchens, and gelato up the ying yang.

That last one really gotcha, didn’t it?

Well, I’m here to tell you… it’s all true. IT’S ALL TRUE. Only it’s better. Every cappuccino, even those from little tourist shops, was creamy and strong and frothy and smooth. Every pasta was handmade because what’s the alternative? Boxed pasta?! Bite your tongue. But not really. You’ll need that to taste with, dummies.

So instead of describing ad nauseum all the dishes I loved in Italy, below is a “I was surprised by” list of eye openers.

You might be surprised to know that…

Truly authentic Italian restaurants are only open for a few hours at night
I don’t know why this is. But almost every single restaurant we went to for dinner was only open from 7PM to 11PM or 8PM to 10:30PM. And if there was any doubt that those were their true hours, one night we ate at an adorable little spot in Rome and come 11PM, closing time, our waiter told us they were out of dessert. Out. of. dessert. We nearly cried. And stole our neighbors’ chocolate torte.

Pappardelle

Pappardelle at Trattoria la Casalinga in Florence

Wine is dirt cheap.
It’s like they’re BEGGING you to drink with every meal! When wine is 4 euro for half a litre, how could you say no at lunch? Or at 2PM? Or at 9PM? Or… you get it. We had the warm-wine-rosies for 90% of the trip.

Gelato really is good everywhere.
When people said this to me before I left, I thought, “Well sure, because gelato I buy here at the grocery store is ‘good,’ too.” I was dumb. Gelato is AMAZING everywhere in Italy. We inadvertently popped into a super touristy shop in Florence where two gelato ran us FOURTEEN EURO (eeps) and it was still just as delicious as the cheapo, clearly more local, gelato we got in Venice for 3 euro.

Gelato near Circus Maximus in Rome

Gelato near Circus Maximus in Rome

If you order a pastry with your cocktail, you’re a dope.
This one I’m not sure of, either. Our first morning in Venice our lovely apartment host Giulia took us out for coffee because our apartment was still being cleaned. She told us the official drink of Venice is called a Spritz, an aperitif made with prosecco, Campari, and sparkling water, so we ordered two. The BF also ordered a croissant because he was hungry. Giulia thought this was HILARIOUS. “A croissant with a Spritz?!” “Yeah… why?” “Ooookaaaay…” Cue eye roll. We don’t really know. But that’s okay. It was all delicious.

Spritz in Venice near Teatro Italia

Spritz in Venice near Teatro Italia

Italians really love to feed you.
Twice we ordered midday meals or snacks that were freaking huge and we had no idea. But the lovely people who served them to us were so smiley and proud of their creations that we couldn’t help but eat every bit on the plate, no matter how tight our pants were getting. It only reminded me that cooking and serving someone the meal you created is a really gratifying experience, and it’s one of the reasons I love making food.

A platter of cheese and meat in Florence

A platter of cheese and meat at Il Club del Gusto in Florence

First course and second course are suggestions. They are great suggestions.
In all three cities we visited, Venice, Florence, and Rome (and perhaps in all of Italy?) pasta is a first course, and entrees and proteins are the second course. When The BF and I finally came around to this manner of eating, we loved it! Portions are small (cough normal cough) enough that you’re not stuffed on pasta before the second course arrives. You’re just… teased. And at the end of the meal you feel full and complete but not disgusting.

An ocean of fish (ha!) at Paradiso Perduto in Venice

An ocean of fish (ha!) at Paradiso Perduto in Venice

Ciao Italia! Thanks for treating us so well. We’ll see you real soon.

About these ads

6 Comments

Filed under Travel

Zucchini, Tomato and Corn Fettuccine with Walnuts and Feta

Dish shown here with parmesan instead of feta

Dish shown here with parmesan instead of feta

It’s a beautiful moment when you visit the farmer’s market in the summer and all the vegetables and fruits are bright and bountiful and you just know your chances of getting sweet, fresh produce is far better than say, the end of February. Sometimes I forget how produce is supposed to taste until sunny July rolls around and my taste buds are like, “HEYOOOO TOMATOES.”

This recipe celebrates summer produce. If you try this recipe in February, I hope you live in Australia.

On the menu:
Zucchini, tomato and corn fettuccine with walnuts and feta
Serves 3
Adapted from Real Simple

1 lb. fettuccine [full disclosure: I had half a box of linguine and half a box of fettuccine so VOILA mixed pastas]
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off
2 small zucchini, cut into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler
2 medium sized tomatoes, diced
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cook pasta according to directions on box. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.

In a medium sized skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and corn and cook for about 4 minutes or until corn is cooked through. Add a liberal pinch of salt and pepper.

Add corn, zucchini, and tomatoes to pasta plus the 1/2 cup pasta water. Heat over medium heat for 8 – 9 minutes or until pasta is coated with sauce and vegetables are heated through. Add oregano and toss to combine. Plate pasta and top with walnuts and feta*.

*NOTE: The BF isn’t a big fan of feta, which does have a strong flavor. I thought this flavor made the dish but I topped his with freshly grated parmesan and he still went back for seconds. So if you hate feta, try parmesan. But definitely top with cheese. Always cheese.

Second note: I served this pasta with garlic bread (CARBS ON CARBS ON CARBS!) and The BF and my dad were preeeetty into it. Here’s the secret to incredible garlic bread: melt butter with garlic powder, stir to combine, spoon over slices of fresh bread, and broil for a minute or two until tops are lightly browned. De.Lish.

2 Comments

Filed under Cooking, Recipes

Greek Pasta Salad

I love looking around for new recipes. Especially in the summer months when I’m not necessarily going to want to spend too much time in a boiling hot kitchen slaving away over an oven.

One recipe I stumbled across on the AllRecipes website was a Greek style pasta salad. Obviously I’d heard of Greek salad on its own, but it had never occurred to me to add pasta into the equation. I’m glad I tried this one though. Not only is it healthy (so long as you go easy on the oil you dress it in), but it’s also delicious and practical for a picnic or barbecue, you know if you’re saving your next trip to a restaurant like 100 Hoxton in London or Fig & Olive in New York for another time.

Ingredients:

150g penne or fusilli pasta

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano

salt and pepper

160ml extra-virgin olive oil

10 cherry tomatoes

1 small red onion

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1/2 cucumber

70g sliced black olives

125g crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

Pull out a large saucepan and fill it with lightly salted water. Bring to the boil and stir in your pasta of choice (penne and fussili work best). Cook the pasta for about 11 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test the pasta with a fork. If it slips through the pasta easily and isn’t chewy, it’s cooked.

Rinse out the pasta with cold water and drain it well with a colander over the sink. Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, pepper, salt and olive oil together and set aside.

Chop the onion, green and red peppers, slice the cucumber and black olives, and halve the cherry tomatoes on a chopping board, and combine the pasta and vegetable ingredients together in a large bowl. Then crumble the feta cheese on top.

Finally pour the vinaigrette over the pasta and mix the whole thing together thoroughly, making sure the entire dish has a proper coating. Cover it over and allow to chill for about 3 hours before serving.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cooking, Recipes

Chicken Marsala

Chicken marsala from LaurenFoodE
I’ve been told my strength is sauces. My Caesar salad dressing is divine, my vodka sauce could make grown men cry, and last night I perfected another: marsala. There is something so rich and deep about this sauce, it tastes like you cooked for hours to achieve it. Truth: it takes 45 minutes tops.

Note: this is a recipe that looks kind of involved, but it’s really not. Just read the whole thing before you start so you know which step comes when, and so your whole meal finishes at the same time.

On the menu:
Chicken marsala
Serves 2 – 3 (truth be told, this was too much for just 2 of us but if you’re serving 2 big eaters, then this might be perfect for 2)

2 large chicken breasts, cut in half length wise and pounded to 1/2 inch thick
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp butter
1 large shallot, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
10 oz. white mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Marsala wine
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Get a large pot of salted water boiling (for pasta).

In a small saucepan, boil chicken stock uncovered until reduced to 1/2 cup. Once cooked down, turn off heat and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add minced shallots and garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add mushrooms, sage, salt and pepper and cook for around 6 – 8 minutes or until mushrooms have cooked down. Remove from heat and reserve.

In a shallow dish, spread out the flour. Liberally salt and pepper each piece of chicken and dredge in flour, shaking off excess. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook each piece of chicken for 1 – 2 minutes, just until browned on each side. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and finish the breasts off in the oven, baking for 7 – 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the same large skillet the mushrooms cooked in, add marsala wine and bring to a simmer, scraping off all the little brown bits from the shallots and garlic. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes or until the liquid reduces by half. [Now is a good time to start cooking your angel hair pasta!] Add reduced broth, cream, and mushrooms and stir. Let liquid simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.

Plate pasta, then chicken, then top off with sauce. Serve hot.

2 Comments

Filed under Cooking, Recipes

Penne with Mushrooms and Pancetta

I know, this is not the most appetizing picture ever. But it’s better then nothing!

It’s a blessing and a curse, guys. I am phenomenal at making basic comfort foods. I know, I know. Humble, too.

You might be thinking, “How in the world is this a curse?” Because in my house, that’s all I ever get asked to make. The below dish is a perfect example. It’s not groundbreaking cuisine here, folks. It’s just a different sauce. But after I made it The BF said, “You gotta make more stuff like THIS!” Ah… more cheesy pasta. Noted.

On the menu:
Penne with mushrooms and pancetta

1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 cup dry red wine (I used Malbec… because I.Love.Malbec.)
8 oz pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
12 ounces of assorted mushrooms, cut into large pieces (I used baby bellas and crimini but you can use anything fresh)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 Tbsp fresh sage (OR 1 Tbsp dried sage), chopped
1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary (OR 1/2 tsp dried rosemary), chopped
1 lb penne
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a large sauce pan, combine the beef broth and the wine over medium/high heat. Let cook for 18 – 20 minutes until the liquid is reduced to one cup.

In the meantime, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a LARGE pot (the entire pound of pasta will eventually go into this pot so keep that in mind when choosing a size). Add mushrooms and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook until softened, around 6 – 8 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.

[AT THIS TIME: start cooking your penne! Just remember to cook until JUST al dente, and reserve half a cup of the pasta water for later in the recipe]

Add pancetta to the large pot that your mushrooms were in and saute until the pancetta is crispy and brown, around 10 – 12 minutes. Drain off excess fat. Add wine reduction, butter, and herbs to the pot. Simmer until liquid thickens slightly, around 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms.

Add cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese to the mushroom mixture. Cook over medium/high heat until the sauce really thickens and coats the pasta, about 7 – 9 minutes, adding a bit of pasta water little by little if the sauce is dry. Plate pasta and top with remaining cheese.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cooking, Recipes

Mediterranean Chicken Salad

I love to cook (…duh) but sometimes weeknight meals feel like a chore to come up with. The BF and I do our weekly grocery shopping on Sundays and sometimes I just can’t think past Sunday night as far as meals go. “Are you sick of penne vodka?” I always ask, staring down at the shopping list with the same twenty items as last week and the week before.

If you’re like me, and you often run out of ideas, there’s a savior: Epicurious Weekday Meal Planner. It’s literally a meal for every night of the week. Not just an entree, not just a soup or a sandwich, a whole meal: salad, entree, and even a dessert suggestion. Epicurious even offers up suggestions on what to do with leftovers (for example, 2 cups of rice made on Monday could serve as the base for Tuesday’s soup). And the best part? Most meals are working-girl/guy friendly. You won’t find any four-hour-long roasting menus or Thanksgiving-sized turkey dinners. If you’re ever stuck for a meal idea, you gotta check it out.

The below meal comes straight from Epicurious’ Weekday Meal Planner and it exceeded my expectations. And I love that it makes enough leftovers for my lunch tomorrow and The BF’s dinner on Thursday.

On the menu:
Mediterranean chicken salad
Serves 5
Adapted from Epicurious.com 

4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked, diced chicken

1 cup orzo
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 6-oz. jar of artichoke hearts, drained
2 Tbsp capers, drained
3 cups mixed greens
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup cucumbers, diced

In a small bowl combined oil, vinegar, tarragon, lemon juice, and mustard, and whisk together until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the chicken with 1/4 cup dressing until coated.

Cook orzo as directed and once drained, toss cooked orzo with the remainder of the dressing. Add chicken to the orzo, then add the cranberries, artichoke hearts, and capers.* Plate mixed greens and then chicken salad on top of the greens. Add tomatoes and cucumbers on the side (or on top if the mood strikes you).

*This salad is “supposed” to be served cold (I don’t really do a lot of things I’m supposed to when it comes to cooking) but I looooved the flavor of the balsamic vinegar when the chicken and orzo warmed it up, so feel free to serve it warm or at room temperature.

Note: I warmed up some naan and served it alongside the salad. It was the cherry on the sundae… and yes. Afterward I ate a sundae.

3 Comments

Filed under Cooking, Recipes

Roasted Shrimp with Tomatoes, Capers and Feta


I have a small collection of cookbooks, and truth be told, they serve more as kitchen decoration than anything else. I decided it’s because cooking from a cookbook is a gamble: you really have to trust the cookbook editor and publisher in order to guarantee a great recipe. I made some mediocre apple muffins a couple weeks ago from a cookbook, and I guarantee that if I had searched for the exact recipe online I would’ve found one with tons of notes in the comments and helpful tips on how to make those muffins stellar.

I do, however, have a cookbook that I know is incredible (I used to work for the publisher heeeeeey) and all about roasting: literally called All About Roasting. My hesitation in using it is that roasting, to me, seems super involved and time consuming. But I read through it slowly one blissful warm Saturday morning with a hot cup of coffee and found this incredible shrimp recipe. Turns out roasting doesn’t always mean 4 hours in the oven.

On the menu:
Roasted shrimp with tomatoes, capers and feta
Serves 2

1/2 pound jumbo shrimp
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp vodka
Salt
One 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, or 1 3/4 cups of peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomatoes
2 Tbsp capers, drained
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, vodka, and a pinch of salt. Toss and coat and let marinade for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Spread the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish (I used a 8″ x 10″ Pyrex dish), drizzle with remaining Tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle with capers. Arrange the shrimp on top of the tomatoes and pour extra marinade over the top.

Bake for 8 minutes, or until the shrimp are mostly pink. Using tongs, flip shrimp and cover with feta cheese. Bake for another 8 – 10 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through completely. Feta will be slightly melted.

Note: I served this over buttered orzo and it made a lovely weeknight meal with minimal effort. #Win.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cooking, Recipes