Monday, April 3, 2017

"Roma- Authentic Recipes from In and Around the Eternal City" & "Eating Rome" - Lentil Soup with Sausage and Green Beans and Mortadella Salad - Commemorating the day Rome was named Italy's capital

Date I made these recipes:  March 27, 2017 – Rome declared Italy's capital on this day, 1861.

Roma – Authentic Recipes From In And Around The Eternal City by Julia Della Croce
Published by Chronicle
ISBN: 0-8118-2352-0; © 2004
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Lentil Soup with Sausage – p. 61

Eating Rome – Living The Good Life In The Eternal City by Elizabeth Minchilli
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN:  978-1-250-04768-7; © 2015
Recipe: Green Beans with Mortadella Salad – p. 105

Sometimes my ideas about what to cook come from the most interesting places, take for instance, Food Network Magazine(FNM).  Well, that's not exactly correct is it, because why wouldn't I get inspiration from a cooking magazine?

One of the features I like the most through from Food Network Magazine, is their monthly calendar of noteworthy food events and recipe suggestions that is often my inspiration for what I cook during that particular month.

On March's calendar, FNM suggested we have fish for Ash Wednesday (March 1st), make a pie for Pi Day (3/14), celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a corned beef-and-cabbage pizza (Oh HELL no!), and then make a Roman dish (they suggested cacio e peper – pasta with cheese and pepper) on March 27th to commemorate the same day back in 1861 that Rome was declared Italy's capital.  I decided on Roman food, final answer, and so set off to do some research so I have something to talk about here.

What I found was interesting to say the least:  some sources listed 1861 as the day that Rome was declared Italy's capital, while others said it was 1871.  Try as I might, I could not confirm (or deny) either year but do believe FNM got the actual date – March 27th – right.  I hope.

Part of the problem, dear reader, is that Italy's history is complicated.  Once upon a time (and not that long ago), it was a kingdom, but a kingdom divided into separate principalities, then it was unified and also reunified such that I can't keep track.  Besides, my people are from Sicily whose history is a tad more straightforward with the exception, of course, of keeping track of various conquerors.

And then there's The Vatican to consider and we would consider it if we a) had the time and b) if this blog was a history lesson but we don't have time for all that, oh darn!  We can though, talk about Roman food.

Italy, like all other countries (including the U.S.), has regional food favorites but you may be surprised to learn that the focus of Roman cuisine is vegetables - artichokes (carciofi), fava beans, zucchini – you name it, you'll find it.  Meat is also very popular – steaks, pork, "bacon," (or products similar to bacon), as are pastas and pizzas tailored to the regional palate.

The cookbook Eating Rome, is intended to be more of a tour guide than a cookbook, containing a wide variety of "eating" suggestions such as how to eat pasta (don't cut it—this applies across Italy and Sicily), how to order coffee, and where to find some of Rome's culinary favorites.  Her Table of Contents includes also chapters such as "Please do not eat within ten feet of any monument," (love it!); "Mi piace la cicoria!" – the Roman passion for vegetables;" "How to eat pasta like a Roman," and "Learning to love Roman pastries."  I am keeping this book on hand should I ever get to Rome (I've been to Italy but not to Rome) as it is filled with good advice and great recipes.

Personally, I am glad to know I am not the only person of Italian (Sicilian) descent who does not make homemade pasta; Elizabeth (the author) doesn't, either.  She grew up in St. Louis in the 60's which makes her about the same age as me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how she enjoyed eating Spaghetti-O's growing up.  She also noted how one day, she'd be at home in the states eating that canned product, the next off to Rome eating the real deal. 

I have a similar story:  one summer when my grandmother was visiting from New Jersey, my brother and I enjoyed a lunch of Spaghetti-O's.  Spaghetti-O's were all the rage back then and since we were kids, we thought they were kind of fun to eat.  My grandmother who hailed straight from Sicily, was a good sport and so joined us in eating them.  When we finished, my mother asked her what she thought and grandma's response still makes me laugh:  "Not-a bad-a."  I have a feeling grandma was likely horrified but she would do anything to please her beloved grandchildren and that was that!

At any rate, stories like this are what made this cookbook enjoyable for me.  Well, stories and recipes!  Recipes like the one I made – Green Beans with Mortadella Salad which combined many ingredients I love:  green beans, oranges and lemons and mortadella also known as Italian bologna.

Small side story here about mortadella:  Yesterday, I was at an event that featured some locally-made foods including mortadella.  It was really good mortadella, and yet I kept looking at it wondering "what's different" about this?  I mentioned this to another event guest and we agreed:  Where are the pistachios?"   We surmised that since the mortadella was locally-made and since pistachios aren't local to this climate, they were left out; we concluded this was an acceptable option.  Anyway, more on the salad with mortadella to follow.

Other dishes from this book that had potential were "Cavatelli with Tuna and Lemon," "Cacio e Pepe" which is basically pasta, pecorino romano cheese, and pepper," and "Pasta Al Forno," a dish of eggplant, pasta, smoked scamorza cheese (you can probably substitute smoked mozzarella), basil and Parmesan.  Yum!  I decided on the salad though because I wanted something fresh and not too heavy and that dish did the trick.

And now, let's chat for a minute about the other cookbook – Roma - about Rome, or Roma, as the Italians pronounce it.  (Ann's Note:  in the Italian language, an "e" is often pronounced as an "a" – really, more of an "ah" -  and so while we pronounce "Rome" without it, Romans pronounce it "Rome-ah."  Also?  In Italy, my last name is pronounced the same way:  "Verm-ah."  This concludes our Italian pronunciation lesson.)

This cookbook is pretty much a straight-up cookbook which is to say it gives you recipes with a little dialog and some photos showing you what your food should look like. The Table of Contents is also pretty straightforward:  "Appetizers, Snacks, and Fried Specialties;" "First Courses of Soups, Pastas, Polenta, and Risotto;" "Second Courses of Meat and Poultry;" "Second Courses of Fish and Shellfish;" Side Dishes," and "Sweets."    There are a few pages in the back detailing "Eating and Sleeping Places," "Festivals," and "Cooking Schools and Wine Courses," but the information here isn't as extensive as the other book.

High up on my list of possible dishes to serve up was "Stewed Baby Back Ribs and Sausages with Polenta" but making it was just too involved and was also very meat-heavy, consisting of a lot of poundage of baby back ribs and sausages, all of which are slow cooked to make a ragu.  And then polenta is served on the side making it one, hearty dish.  I wasn't exactly in the mood for "hearty," plus, after my meatball experience from last week, I was not going to go willingly into the night to make something that would take hours of my life I would never get back.  Also out because I just made it, was a pork loin braised in milk.  "Beef Stew with Cloves" sounded really good but I finally passed on that and decided on the Lentil Soup with Sausage recipe.  I love Lentil Soup and have a really good recipe for one but I like experimenting with other recipes just to see what's out there.

Of course this blog would not be complete without suggestions from me about tweaks I'd make to the recipes but overall, these were winners.  In fact, Andy kept saying "This is really good soup" over and over again which tickled me pink.  And I loved the green bean salad although as you'll read, I have a few suggestions to improve it.

And so reader, we now bid "arrivederci" (goodbye) to Roma – for now.  I wish I could say instead "arrivederla" (see you soon) but I don't think we'll be going there any time soon, darn it!  No matter – we'll just console ourselves in the meantime with the food.

Lentil Soup with Sausage (Minestra di lenticchie con salsiccia) – for 6 people
1 ½ cups brown lentils
10 cups water
1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste
One 8-inch sprig fresh sage, or 2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, or 1 teaspoon crumbed dried marjoram
1 cup tomato puree or tomato sauce
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pick over and rinse the lentils.  Transfer them to a large pot and add the water, 1 tablespoon salt, and sage.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce the heat and cook gently for 15 minutes.  (Ann's Notes:  the lentils needed more time and so I kept them cooking for another 10 minutes or so. Also, I used bay leaves instead of sage.)

In the meantime, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add the sausage and sauté until it is browned on the outside and still pink inside, about 8 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and stir in the garlic, onion, parsley, and marjoram.  Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the tomato puree. Add the sausage mixture to the lentils and mix well.  Simmer for an additional 5 minutes to marry the flavors.  Remove the sage (or bay leaves), taste for salt, and season with pepper.  Serve hot.

Ann's Notes:
  1. I was out of marjoram so I substituted oregano.
  2. If I were you, once you've cooked the sausage for 8 minutes (or so), remove the sausage from the pan, then cook the onions, etc. and then add it back to the pan.  I followed the directions and the sausage was fine but I felt it was almost a tad overcooked.
  3. I've made variations of this dish before and felt that the dish could have used some carrots for color and flavor.  Without it, this dish is very brown.  Very tasty, but very brown.
  4. My favorite lentil soup recipe calls for orzo pasta to be added at the very end. You could probably get away with that in this recipe.
  5. I like a little Parmesan or Pecorino cheese on top of my lentil soup.

Green Beans with Mortadella Salad – Serves 4-5
1 pound green beans, cleaned (Ann's Note:  I hope by "cleaned" she meant "trimmed" because that's what I did to the beans!)
1 slice mortadella (about ½ cup chopped in small pieces) (Ann's Note:  Pre-packaged mortadella is often sliced thin which is fine but probably not what the author intended.  If you can, ask for a deli for one slice of mortadella, about ¼-inch thick.)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Zest of 1 lemon, peeled with a potato peeler and finely chopped*
Zest of 1 small orange, peeled with a potato peeler and finely chopped*
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped, roasted onions (for garnish)

*Ann's Notes:  Next time around, I'm not going to peel then finely chop the lemon and orange peel as the pieces were too big and they also tended to overpower the dish.  You might try grating it instead and also grating a little at a time until you are satisfied with the taste.

Steam the green beans until tender.

Meanwhile place the mortadella shallot, garlic, olive oil, tarragon, chopped citrus zests, and citrus juices in a large bowl and stir to mix well.

When the beans are tender, drain them and then add them, still steaming hot, to the mixture in the bowl.  Toss well and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Ann's Note: The author suggests you "add the beans to the dressing while they are piping hot, so that they sort of cook the shallots and garlic, and coax the fat nodules out of the mortadella.")

Let cool, toss again, and top with the almonds.  Serve at room temperature.

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