Project Rome + Lemon, Ricotta, and Olive Oil Cake

As per usual, I have a new recipe for you today! But before I get to that, I also have info about an organization here in Rome that you should all know about. First things first -- let's talk about Project Rome!

Project Rome is a self-funded initiative started by Mary Stuart-Miller and Steven Barnes, two British expats living here in the Eternal City. What started as a small project in 2013 to help Rome's homeless -- just Mary and Steve serving home-cooked food and providing basic essentials like shoes and warm clothes -- has since expanded. Along with a team of 20 volunteers, Project Rome now feeds upwards of 150 men and women every Tuesday, as part of their "Tiburtina Tuesday" dinner service (you can get more information about Tiburtina Tuesday and how you can participate by clicking here). In addition to preparing meals, Project Rome also offers free haircuts and shaves, helps their men and women find jobs and apartments, and has started other activities to help support their work. These include: a wish list (sleeping bags, tents, toiletries, among other things) for those who wish to donate an item online; a gift drive at Christmas; and a project to sponsor a hen, whose eggs are used in the meals prepared by the organization (my family has already sponsored 3 -- Beatrice, Belinda, and Betsy). In short, the main aim of Project Rome is to serve others "with kindness, generosity and genuine human compassion." Sounds good to me. 

Project Rome has mostly recently organized a February Food Drive, in order to collect the following items:

Pasta
Potatoes
Olive Oil
Canned Tomatoes
Rice (Thai par-boiled preferred)
Pulses, farro, lentils, orzo
Vegetable stock cubes
Jars of passata (crushed tomatoes)
Plastic plates (the deeper, sturdier kind)
Plastic cups
Spoons
Napkins

If you live in Rome and want to participate, you can drop any of the items at the following addresses:

Scholar’s Pub (Via del Plebiscito 101b)
The Beehive Hostel (Via Marghera 8)
Offices D813 (my office) or C434 (the office of Sangita Dubey) for those who also work at FAO.

You can find out more about the Food Drive by clicking here

Project Rome has also organized a Bake Off this February, where volunteers can either donate cakes to be served on Tiburtina Tuesday or at their Sunday meal services, or sell their cakes and then donate the profits to Project Rome. A slice of homemade cake may seem like a small thing, but I think a little dessert can go a long way to brighten someone's day. If you're interested in participating, you can find all the details of the Bake Off by clicking here. I'll be baking some cakes to donate for the Bake Off, and will also be baking a few cakes per month to donate to Project Rome going forward -- if you want to join me, do feel contact me (pancakesbiscottiblog@gmail.com) or Mary directly to coordinate! 

Today's Lemon, Ricotta, and Olive Oil Cake was one of the cakes I prepared and donated for the February Bake Off. The recipe comes from blogger and cookbook author Rachel Roddy, by way of my friend Flavia Scalzitti, who shared this recipe on her blog Flavia's Flavors. I have adapted the recipe just barely, adding some vanilla extract and a bit more lemon zest, and the results were outstanding -- a fluffy, airy, and intensely lemon-y cake that is perfect with a dusting of powdered sugar, one of those cakes good at breakfast, snack, or dessert. I hope that the group that Mary, Steve, and their team are feeding today agree. 

A few last things I wanted to share! Mary has recently been recognized by the Guardian for her wonderful work, named as one of the eight heroes of 2016 in this article here. If you want to get involved in Project Rome, click here to contact the organization directly. Note that Project Rome also has an Italian version of their website. 

Looking for recipes for other cakes to make and donate for Project Rome? Check out the ones I have in my Recipe Index here under "Desserts." I also made this Best Ever Apple Cake, and this Nutella Swirl Cake, as well as a Honey Loaf Cake and a Chocolate Bundt Cake (recipes not yet on the blog). Note that "sturdier" cakes without any frosting or other layers are easiest to transport, serve, and eat. 

LEMON, RICOTTA, OLIVE OIL CAKE FOR PROJECT ROME

Ingredients:
2 cups flour (260 grams) 
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar (200 grams)
Pinch of salt (a heaping 1/8 teaspoon, roughly) 
1 cup ricotta (205 grams)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (224 grams)
4 large eggs
Zest of 3 lemons (orange zest works well too!)

Powdered sugar, for serving

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F (170 degrees Celsius). Butter a 9-inch diameter bundt pan, tube pan, or loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta and olive oil until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until they are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour the ricotta mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until the ingredients are combined and the batter is thick and smooth. Fold in the lemon zest using a wooden spoon.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. 
 
Cool the cake completely in the pan before inverting it out onto a platter. Dust with powdered sugar. Serves 12-14.



Anti Valentine's Day: Spaghetti with Garlicky Greens

Not long ago, a friend of mine went on a date with a seemingly promising guy she met here in Rome. When I asked her how the date had gone, she groaned and said "Oh, dinner was awkward. We didn't have much to talk about, and besides that I ordered cacio e pepe, and the pasta was too long and hard to eat, and...well, first and last date." As we discussed the details of her not-so-successful dinner, we also compiled a list of all the foods that should be avoided on a first date, or in any romantic situation at all. After some careful thought and consideration we nixed: anything green, like spinach or parsley, which could easily get stuck in your teeth and remain there until hours later, when, horrified, you discovered the offending leafy green; smelly cheese, like gorgonzola or taleggio, whose pungent odors were perhaps not so welcome on a first date; onions, especially raw ones (see: smelly cheese); anything messy and difficult to eat, like a burger or tacos or the previously mentioned long pasta, like tonnarelli; garlic, because, well, garlic. The safest option, we determined, would be a piece of grilled chicken; plain, colorless, unoffensive, easily eaten with a knife and fork, but all the same, a bit boring.

So, where am I going with this?! I posted the requisite Valentine's Day recipe earlier in the week, which would be these Red Wine Chocolate Truffles, thus doing my duty for the month of February for anyone celebrating Valentine's Day. But I'm not one to leave people out! What if you're not with someone this year? What if you were with someone and you're currently heartbroken? What if you were with someone and you're currently celebrating your new found singledom? What if you haven't been in a relationship in a while and are a feeling a little bitter about all the cupids and hearts you're seeing this month?! What if you're single and are 100% fine with that, but also happen to appreciate good food?

You may not have a significant other this year, but on February 14th, you can indulge freely in any or all of the delicious items in my above-mentioned list, including today's Garlicky Green Spaghetti, which:

-Has long pasta, for guaranteed unattractive eating;
-Has an abundance of leafy spinach, to up the chances of giving you a big green-teethed grin;
-Has onions, lots of onions;
-Has garlic, lots and lots of garlic;
-Is finished off with a good dose of cheese, which doesn't give anyone good breath;
-Has a pancetta, because pancetta makes everything 100 times better, all day every day.

In short, whatever category you fall in to, this is just the sort of pasta that would be a nightmare to eat in a romantic setting, and a breeze to eat anywhere else. Above were the bullet points, here are the details: here we have spaghetti served in a silky, olive oil-y sauce that shines in all its unapologetically garlicky splendor, exalting and transforming what were previously mild and rather unremarkable spinach leaves into something truly tasty and crave-worthy. Garlic and greens aside, the spaghetti is dressed up with rich, savory pancetta, a hit of bright lemon zest, slow cooked onions, and a generous amount of salty Pecorino Romano cheese, all of which come together to make pasta that will quite possibly make you grateful you're single this year. Make a big batch of this spaghetti and dole it out to your fellow single friends for dinner on Valentine's Day, reveling in its (delicious) and romance repellent qualities!

A couple of notes: Okay, so this may seem like a lot of garlic, because it definitely is, but that's the point! The garlic here actually isn't overwhelming, just pleasantly spicy and fragrant and goes awesome with the olive oil and greens (olive oil, garlic, and greens are a match made in flavor heaven). Note that for my first "draft" of this pasta, I left the garlic cloves in larger pieces (I thought it would flavor the olive oil enough and then I could remove them later, as I usually do with garlic) but I found that the garlicky flavor wasn't strong enough, and on my second round left the cloves in thin pieces, as you'll see in the below recipe. Therefore, the garlic you see in the below photos should actually be cut much finer. This is a fairly flexible recipe: you can use Parmesan instead of the Pecorino, if you wish, leave out the pancetta for vegetarians, use any kind of winter green you like (kale, for example) or use any kind of pasta you want (longer pasta is the most fun here though). 

Want some other recipes that could present problems in a romantic setting? Check out a few other green dishes, like: Cicoria alla romana, this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, or this Pasta with Basil Pesto. You might also like a messy and/or difficult to eat dish, like: Avocado Cheddar Burgers, this Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, this Pappardelle with Porcini and Pumpkin, or this Bucatini all'amatriciana. Want some dessert? I recommend these Lemon Squares, if you're feeling a little sour this February 14th, or this Tiramisรน, whose cocoa powder is bound to end up all over your teeth and face. Hurray!

SPAGHETTI WITH GARLICKY GREENS

Ingredients:
4 ounces (112 grams) pancetta (optional) 
1/3 cup (about 6 tablespoons) olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes, to taste 
16 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
16 cups (500 grams, or 1 pound) of spinach leaves, torn, tough stems removed 
Zest of 1 small lemon
12 ounces (340 grams) spaghetti
1 cup (150 grams) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Directions:
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.

If you're using the pancetta: cook the pancetta in a tiny bit of olive oil (just so it doesn't stick at first) in a small skillet over medium heat. When the pancetta is brown and crisp, drain it on a paper towel. Set aside. 
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion and red pepper flakes. Saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic (I add the onions before the garlic as the garlic tends to cook faster). Let the garlic and onions cook until they began to soften and brown. Season the onions with a little salt and pepper. Next, add the spinach, a handful or two at a time, and let it cook down (you'll see that 16 cups really isn't as much as it sounds as it cooks down really fast). Continue until all the spinach is in the pan and has cooked down. Taste and season the onions, spinach, and garlic again with some salt and pepper if necessary. Add the pancetta and lemon zest and mix to combine. 
In the meantime, add the spaghetti to the boiling water (salting it well) and cook according to the package instructions, reserving 1/2 a cup or so of pasta water before draining the spaghetti. Add the drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss with the spinach, onions, and pancetta, then add the Pecorino cheese and a little pasta cooking water (about a tablespoon at a time) to help the sauce come together. Toss well, as you were instructed when we discussed the technique for Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.
Serve the pasta immediately with a little freshly grated Pecorino cheese on top. Eat with gusto and revel in your singleness. Serves 4.