gnocchetti with chili-garlic zucchini

Gnocchi (or gnocchetti, as the smaller ones are known) can be made of a variety of things. Potato gnocchi are perhaps the most popular and well-known variety, especially in America. Other options include semolina flour, wheat flour, and ordinary flour + egg.

These are made of potatoes and deliciousness, and although potato is technically a vegetable, there was a mysterious voice inside my head that told me to add another vegetable to this dish.

I lied, it wasn’t a mysterious voice. It was my mother’s voice.

Regardless, I needed a more credible vegetable, and I turned to zucchini. Its credentials include: being green (automatic sign of legitimacy in the realm of veggies), being crunchy, and adapting well to many different flavors. In my kitchen, potatoes and zucchini are like Ross and Rachel. They do sometimes see other ingredients, but somehow they always seem to end up together.

This dish comes together fairly simply. By putting the zucchini in the pan with no oil/butter at first, and letting it cook most of the way, less oil is absorbed by the zucchini overall.

Once the “naked” zucchini has cooked by itself for 6-8 minutes, take it out of the pan and put it aside. Then add 1-2 Tbsp. of oil to the pan, plus a clove or two of garlic, and either a whole dried chili or some chili flakes. Once the garlic is lightly browned and the kitchen smells amazing, throw the zucchini back in, then the pasta, salt to taste, add some cheese, and call it a day.

It is finally getting a little chilly in Rome! Not cold, not mid-November weather by any means, but enough to induce the occasional shiver and demand long sleeves. Of course, the Italians are bundled up like Eskimos, in full-length down parkas and scarves and gloves, huddling for warmth as though they are trekking in the Arctic, when in reality it is 57°F and sunny.

They aren’t the only ones feeling the chill. The birds of Italy seem to have clued in to the impending cold season, and have begun migrating South accordingly. Each evening, I look at the sky and see thousands and thousands of birds swarming in and out of various formations, none of which resemble the “V” shape that I was taught to expect. And because this is happening every day, I can only assume that a) there are LOTS of birds here, or b) they are getting lost and doubling back. Either way, it makes for a pretty amazing sight:

Gnocchetti with Chili-Garlic Zucchini recipe

  • 1 serving of gnocchetti (I hate putting a measurement on this, because everyone eats different amounts of pasta)
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. olive oil (I used a chili-infused olive oil, but extra-virgin would work too)
  • 1 dried red chili pepper OR 1 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano

Sauté the diced zucchini in a pan for 6-8 minutes, or until the zucchini begin to look cooked (but not very brown). Transfer zucchini from pan into a bowl, and set aside.

In the same pan, add olive oil, chili and garlic, and heat on low until garlic begins to brown.

Boil gnocchi in water – be careful not to overcook or gnocchi will become very mushy. (Note: it is also possible to add uncooked gnocchi to the olive oil, and sauté it, but boiling is a slightly healthier option.)

Once garlic is browned, add zucchini back into pan, along with boiled gnocchi, and toss together. Add salt and cheese and combine. Serve while hot!

creamy fusilli with zucchini

Pasta is like a blank canvas. It can adapt to all moods, all ingredients, and all seasons. You can open your pantry/fridge and start pulling things out, add some pasta, and just like that, what was once a motley crew of ingredients is now a meal.

Of course, as in any civilized society, there are rules that one can choose to either obey or disobey. For the most part, the rules are pretty intuitive, and at the end of the day the dish will probably still be delicious, even if you do pair capellini with meat sauce like some kind of unstoppable maverick.

I’m  not such a rebel, and anyways it’s still way too warm for meat sauce. I’ve been buying zucchini non-stop since I’ve been here, and using it primarily as a pizza topping and a side dish. Then I came across a Roasted Zucchini Pasta on Ezra Pound Cake, and I couldn’t believe I had never thought to combine my two addictions into one amazing meal. How (fu)silly of me (sorry, had to!)

I didn’t actually roast the zucchini, I sauteed it in a pan with some onion, sliced garlic, dill and crushed red peppers. Also, I didn’t use goat cheese or parmesan, but opted instead for some herb cream cheese that I had hanging out in my fridge. It turned out to be delicious, with a little subtle tang from the cream cheese.  Next time, I’ll definitely try it with the goat cheese though!

But look, there is more to Italy than delicious food. Especially here in Rome, history is everywhere. Even beyond the big tourist attractions, you can find little pieces of antiquity scattered in the midst of all the modernity. What I love about this city is that history is never sacrificed for the sake of building something new; they quite literally build around their ruins. One such example is Il Teatro di Pompeo (Theater of Pompey).

Considered the original Roman theatre, this site is most famous for the assassination that took place right here. The victim’s name? His followers called him Caesar, but his friends probably just called him Julius. Actually, if memory serves, they probably called him Julī , as per the rules of the Latin vocative case.

Nowadays, this site occupies the heart of the Largo di Torre Argentina. Surrounding it, however, are shops, restaurants, and a major bus and tram stop. Every morning as they board their buses to work, countless friends, Romans and countrymen can check out the location of the murder that has been so immortalized through art and literature. But they aren’t the only ones who love to gaze at these ruins:

The ruins of the theatre have also become a cat sanctuary, home to many Roman gatti. And you thought Broadway was the only place you could see Cats onstage!

Creamy Fusilli with Zucchini recipe (adapted from Ezra Pound Cake)

  • 1 cup dried Fusilli pasta
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. crushed red peppers
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced (minced or grated would also work)
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil for sauteing

Set pasta to boil. In a separate pan, add olive oil, then zucchini, onions and garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Add red peppers and dill and continue to saute until zucchini and onions reach desired level of “done-ness” (I prefer both a little crispy, but if softer consistencies are desired, then allow both to cook for longer).

Once pasta is cooked, drain, but reserve 1-2 Tbsp. of pasta water in a separate dish. Combine pasta and sauteed vegetables, and immediately mix in cream cheese. The heat from the pasta and zucchini will melt the cream cheese. If pasta still seems a little too dry, add pasta water in small amounts until desired consistency is achieved. Add salt to taste.

classic bruschetta

My family is Indian, and as a result I grew up eating a lot of Indian food, and watching my mom prepare it. Then I graduated college and moved here, and in the process of immersing myself in the Italian culture, I’ve noticed some interesting similarities and differences between the two cuisines, and consequently, the two cultures.

These are two of the most food-centric cultures on the planet. We mark all occasions with food; we use it to celebrate and we use it to mourn. The Italians do the same. An Italian grandmother takes as much joy in presenting her family with a 5-course meal as an Indian grandmother, and neither will be satisfied until everyone at the table is on the brink of a food coma. Second helpings are par for the course; the third helping shows true appreciation. In Italy, after you polish off the antipasti and the primo piatto, you still have the second course, the contorni, and dessert to contend with. My own mother, when preparing food for any occasion, is never satisfied with just one or two side dishes to accompany a main dish. Usually there are a minimum of 3 sides, plus some naan and at least two choices of dessert.

The ideas behind the preparation of each cuisine, however, differ greatly, at least from what I’ve seen.

Indian food is typically composed of a varied blend of spices and components, all coming together to create a single dish. Even basic curry, when prepared traditionally, is the product of many ingredients blending together to render a flavorful, vibrant culinary experience.

Italian food, in contrast, is all about simplicity. A basic tomato sauce, when prepared traditionally, needs only a few ingredients: tomatoes, salt, maybe some garlic (definitely some garlic), and that’s really all. Anything beyond that is added at the discretion of the chef. This allows the tomato flavor to shine through in a simple, yet delicious fashion.

At the end of the day, the result of both ideologies is deliciousness. I can’t say that one is better than the other. The chef who can achieve perfect harmony from a battery of spices and ingredients is just as talented as the chef who can coax a religious experience out of just a tomato. Both meals are made with love, and both plates will be licked clean!

Today I’m sharing a recipe for classic bruschetta. I’ve talked about bruschetta here before, and as I said, it’s a blank canvas. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you like. This time, I went with simple: bread, a tomato, some salt, olive oil, rosemary and garlic.

Well…that was the plan until I spied the goat cheese. But it’s really only in there for creaminess; the flavor is in the tomato.

Cuisine aside, the Italians don’t always do everything simply and subtly.


This monument has several names. Sometimes it is called il Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. Sometimes it is referred to as Altare della patria (altar of the motherland). Its friends just call it “Il Vittoriano”. I call it the Wedding Cake. Whatever you call it, you can’t call it understated!

Classic Bruschetta recipe

(I only made myself one piece of toast, so scale the recipe up if you want more than that!)

  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • salt to taste
  • 1 piece of bread, lightly toasted
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • goat cheese (as much as desired)

Rub the clove of garlic all over one side of the bread. Save the remnants of the garlic for grating into the tomato mixture, if desired.

In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, salt, rosemary, olive oil, and grated garlic.

Spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the garlicky side of the toast. Spoon tomato mixture on top of toast. Enjoy!

pizza, plain and simple

Shocking revelation: finding a decent slice of pizza here is not a daunting task. It’s only too easy to step outside, walk a few feet, and find yourself at a place like Il Forno Roscioli, where you can get many different kinds of pizza al taglio (by the slice) for 2-3 euros a slice. Included in that price is the added satisfaction of watching the guy behind the counter use a giant cleaver to hack off your slice, when you and I both know that a pizza cutter or a pair of scissors would achieve the same effect.

There are two ways to eat pizza here. Pizza in pie form is typically reserved for sit-down dinners at restaurants. For lunch, pizza is sold by the slice, usually folded over like a panino and wrapped in an impenetrable fortress of wax and parchment paper. Sometimes I am too impatient to free the pizza from its papery prison, and that is the story of how I spilled a lemon granita all over my flip-flops! In the grand scheme of things, pizza trumps granita, and so it was all worth it.

But sometimes, I want to make pizza my way. With a little garlic, or some pesto maybe. A simple dough, a little homemade tomato sauce with garlic, rosemary and crushed red peppers, some freshly sliced mozzarella, and pesto from the Campo di Fiori, and I’m pretty much set.

A little spinach, or some caramelized onions next time would make this even better. I sliced the mozzarella pretty thinly, because I don’t like very cheesy pizza, but some of it ended up getting too dry in the oven, so next time I’ll leave it a little thicker. Other than that, no complaints…

…well, just one. When you make pizza at home, you are less likely to eat it while walking around. Which means you miss out on sights like this:

I am submitting this recipe to the Holiday Recipe Swap hosted by My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats, sponsored by Red Star Yeast! Be sure to check out the other delicious recipes that were submitted!

Pizza Crust Recipe (from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine dry ingredients. Add water and olive oil and form dough into a ball.

Dump dough onto counter, making sure to get any residual flour from the bowl out as well. Knead dough for a minute or two. 

Grease bowl using cooking spray (or olive oil if desired). Return dough to bowl, turning dough around bowl so all sides are coated with grease. Cover bowl with saran wrap and let rise for 1-2 hours, or until dough is doubled in size.

Once dough has risen, sprinkle rolling surface generously with flour, keeping extra on hand. Knead dough a few times to deflate, then roll to desired thickness, sprinkling more flour when the dough sticks. Top with sauce and desired toppings and bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese bubbles and crust is golden-brown.

Pizza Sauce Recipe

  • 3/4 cup Pomi (or any other brand) tomato sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. crushed red peppers
  • salt to taste

Heat tomato sauce in saucepan over low heat. Add garlic, rosemary, red peppers, and salt and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and spread on rolled out pizza dough. Top with cheese, pesto, and extra crushed red peppers, bake and enjoy!


Ferragosto

While its true that August is a general vacation time here, the 15th in particular is the day that Romans close up shop and head for the beach, leaving their fair city in the hands of the ever-present tourists. The 15th of August is called Ferragosto, or Assumption Day. The word “ferragosto” derives from the original name, feriae Augusti, meaning “holidays of [Emperor] Augustus”.

I knew that lots of places would be deserted this past Monday, but I still failed to stock up on Diet Coke (my drug of choice) in anticipation of the closed grocery store. Rookie mistake. Despite the crippling absence of my daily dose of caffeine, I headed out to see what Rome looks like without the Romans.

That is the emptiest you will ever see the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. I took this picture from the middle of the road (hence the looks that I’m choosing to interpret as admiration). Gone are the fashionable, well-dressed locals, and in their place is an abundance of backpack-wearing, camera-wielding tourists, frantically searching their maps, looking for all of the must-see historical attractions.

When confronted with a sign like this, how do you even begin to decide which way to go?

I headed for Piazza Navona, accidentally wound up at the Pantheon, then circled back to the Campo di Fiori, hoping but not really expecting to see the fruit and vegetable vendors. As I suspected, the Campo was similarly deserted and taken over by tourists. No strawberries for me.

When everything is closed, including grocery stores and bakeries, a girl still has to eat, right?

That’s lunch, folks.

p.s. Check out the Weeping Willards, they are kicking off their mini-tour today and I’m sad I can’t go to any of the shows, so I thought I would throw A Little Love their way!

basic lasagna

Rome is home to some of the best food, most beautiful art, and ballsiest pidgeons in the world. I’ve been trying really hard to act like a local, and not be such a tourist, and this involves making a few changes to my normal behavior. I no longer flip out when a pidgeon gets so close to me that I accidentally kick it. I now walk boldly into oncoming traffic, crossing my fingers that cars and scooters will screech to a halt. Roman drivers, if transplanted into some other part of the world, would probably be promptly admitted into a facility for treatment of the psychotic and sociopathic, but nevertheless, streets must be crossed.

Part of being a local also involves cooking for myself in my “kitchen” (pictures to come soon). I think it will be a long time before I tire of eating pasta (if ever), but so far I had been going the easy route, boiling pasta and using store-bought sauce. A few nights ago I decided to step up my game, and tackle something new while still satisfying my pasta craving. I was in the store and noticed lasagna sheets, and I grabbed them. I also picked up some fresh mozzarella, and headed for the canned tomatoes. After scowling at all the various forms of canned tomatoes on the shelf for 10 minutes, I decided on the whole, peeled tomatoes. I think that next time I would use the canned, diced tomatoes, because that would probably speed up the sauce-making process a little bit, but anything would probably work. One white onion completed the list, and I had everything I needed for a delicious, simple lasagna.

The key to really delicious tomato sauce is simplicity – this is something the Italians really understand. There is no need to overload a sauce with spices, however tempting it may be. In this sauce, I started by melting a teaspoon or so of butter, sprinkling in a tiny pinch of crushed red peppers, and a tiny pinch of dried rosemary. Next, I added a quarter of the onion – there is no need to chop the onion further, because its only job is to give flavor while the sauce is cooking, then it gets thrown out. Then the tomatoes get thrown in, along with salt to taste, and from here on out its a waiting game. Because I used whole tomatoes, it took a while for them to break down completely. All you have to do is stir occasionally, and listen to the sauce gurgling happily on the stove while you clean your room for the love of god, your mother would be horrified.

Once the sauce is ready, just start layering. Oh, a note about the cheese. I don’t like really cheesy lasagna, because there is probably something wrong with me, so I nixed the ricotta and decided to use only mozzarella instead. Like I said earlier, I bought fresh mozzarella. Once I opened it up, I realized that the heavy moisture content of the cheese might result in a watery finished product, so I sliced it up and pressed it between two paper towels. This worked really well, and I think the fresh mozzarella adds a nicer taste than the pre-shredded stuff we use at home. Layer the lasagna however you like; I usually start and end with a sauce layer (and then cheese on top), but whatever you do in between is your own business. Like I said, I opted to keep this simple, but next time I’m going to throw in some spinach and maybe some zucchini too.

I am submitting this recipe to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Simona of Briciole!

Tomato Sauce Recipe

  • 2 cans whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1-2 tsp butter
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pinch dried rosemary
  • 1 quarter of a white onion
  • Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add spices and onion and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you let the sauce simmer, the thicker it will get. 

Lasagna Assembly

Start with a light layer of sauce. Add lasagna noodle. More sauce. Some cheese. Another noodle. Continue in this fashion, ending with a layer of sauce and cheese. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling.

confetti bruschetti

Yes, I do know that it is called bruschetta, not bruschetti. But that doesn’t rhyme with confetti. Sometimes rhyming is more important than being grammatically correct in a foreign language – its not as though I’m about to move to Italy or anything anyways.

These were our Father’s Day appetizers. The main course and dessert will be posted soon, but for now its all about these tasty little bruschette. We wanted something light and tasty, nothing that would fill up our stomachs or help us fill out our jeans.

Technically, bruschetta is made with bread that is rubbed with garlic, topped with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasted. From that point on, its your blank canvas. Common toppings include chopped tomatoes or olives, or sometimes a little basil or mozzarella. But I opened this post with a bastardization of this Italian dish anyways, so in for a penny, in for a pound. We skipped the mozzarella and basil and olives, but we invited the tomatoes. Green peppers and red onions too. Capers and dried jalapeño peppers rounded out the set. But there were two things that really made these little bruschette amazing. First, we spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the bread. I like it better than mozzarella anyways (they are really going to hate me over there). Second, we mixed the chopped vegetables with a little bit of fresh pesto made with garlic scapes. This gave the dish a really sharp, summery flavor.

Pretty much any kind of baguette or toasts can be used as the base for this dish. We actually used sourdough sandwich bread, cut up into quarters. Make it even healthier and use multigrain or whole wheat bread!

For the base, use whatever kind of bread you like. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt + pepper, and bake in oven until crisp.

Topping recipe:

  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. capers
  • 1 tsp. dried jalapeño flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. pesto
  • Approximately 3 Tbsp. goat cheese

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Spread thin layer of goat cheese on each piece of toast. Heap a small spoonful of topping onto each toast. Bake at 250° for 2-3 minutes, then broil for 45-60 seconds. Remove from oven and serve warm!