Pasta al pesto di mandorle, basilico, e limone

For the first time in the four + years in which I've been blogging, Pancakes & Biscotti is experiencing a bit of a lull. Working on this blog -- usually one of my favorite activities! -- has become an effort lately. My brain and time have been overly occupied the past 2ish months, leaving my energy and creativity levels low as a result. My workload in my new team has been intense (lots of big meetings as part of the 24th Committee on Forestry, complete with a whole meeting on poplars, which I personally find endearing, but also demanding, damn those adorable poplars) not to mention some tumult in a few areas of my personal life, plus some traveling. All of this has kept writing and cooking low on the priority list, and I've seemingly lost sight of the blog-centric mentality I'd always possessed up until recently. Uff.   

That being said, I found myself with a little rare free time and energy this past Saturday, enough to get back to my usual cookbook-reading and recipe-hunting over-breakfast-ritual for a minute, and it was so nice. My brain, which had been running pretty low on ideas and inspiration -- who has time to think about Summer-y recipes when you're already filled to the brim?! -- was suddenly running again, occupied with something other than the latest distractions, and I ended up with a hefty list of summer recipes, which looks more or less like this:

Coffee semifreddo? Hazelnut semifreddo? Coffee/hazelnut semifreddo?
Non-traditional pesto?
Tiella (eggplant filling?)
Butterscotch sauce, over vanilla ice cream
Something with corn -- fritters? Too hot for frying?
Apricot/cherry/pecan crisp? Crumble?
Burger, bacon/caramelized onion jam
Cucina Conversations -- pomodori gratinati?!
Cherries -- clafoutis? Tart? Pie recipe from Federica?
Pasta with pecorino/mussels
Spaghetti alle vongole

And just like that, or at least for this weekend, I'm feeling more like myself again, back in the game, with angles for posts accompanying the many recipes that suddenly came to me, or rather, that just needed a little bit of space to make it on to my piece of paper. 

But let's focus on that second recipe on my brainstorming list -- pesto (much like gelato, anything with tomatoes, and more garden-grown zucchini than you can handle) is a food that is synonymous with summer. It's no-cook, perfect for when the temperatures are high and turning on the oven of stove seems impossible, and (traditionally) makes excellent use of the emerald green bunches of basil that are so abundant this time of year. Today's pesto is a riff on the classic basil, pine nut, and Parmesan pesto, one where we keep the summer-y basil, but swap the pine nuts for almonds and exclude the Parmesan all together, leaving it to the citrus to pack the flavor punch; interestingly enough, a little hot water is whisked into the pesto to give it a smoother, richer consistency. The result is an intensely sunshine-y, lemon-y pesto balanced by a bunch of floral basil and mild, nutty almonds -- peeled and unpeeled, to shake up the texture and flavor -- which perfectly, dreamily, coats every piece of pasta. Like most pasta dishes, this one is excellent with some freshly grated Parmesan over the top; that being said, if you leave out the cheese this pasta can be completely vegan, a category in to which very few recipes on this blog fall, but are useful when you have a newly-vegan bff (this is for you, Gabriele). In any case, getting back in the kitchen this past weekend proved to be calming, fulfilling, just what I needed, and not even the smoke that began to seep out of my trusty mini food processor, RIP, could mess with that (no food processor, no problem -- I chopped the almonds by hand!) No matter where you find yourself lately -- whether you're preoccupied like me, or feeling pretty zen -- this pasta is guaranteed to do you some good, in the way that only a delicious bowl of carbohydrates can. Yum.

A couple of notes: I used a very large lemon from the Amalfi coast in this recipe and the lemony flavor was spot on for me; if the lemons you have are smaller I suggest you use two of them for the zest, but taste the pesto as you go and see what your taste buds tell you. If you don't have a food processor feel free to use a knife to cut up the almonds until they're very fine -- it requires a bit of elbow grease but it works well. If you have a traditional mortar and pestle, you can also use that. Note that the pesto here will seem a bit thick at first, but that's because you'll be adding in lemon juice, hot water, and then probably a little pasta water at the end, so don't fret. Finally, feel free to use any cut of pasta you want here.

Looking for other pesto recipes? I've got this Basil Pesto, this Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, and this Pistachio Parsley Pesto. Looking for other summer-y pasta recipes? I've got this Spaghetti with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes, this Pasta with Swordfish and Eggplant, this Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella, and this Spaghetti with Zucchine.

PASTA AL PESTO DI BASILICO, MANDORLE E LIMONE
Recipe adapted from Giallo Zafferano.

Ingredients:
A heaping 1/3 cup (50 grams) unskinned whole almonds
3/4 cup (100 grams) skinned whole almonds
7 large basil leaves
About 6 tablespoons (40 grams) olive oil
Zest of 1 and a half large lemosn (see notes)
Juice of one of the above-mentioned lemons

300 grams pasta of your choosing
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving 

Directions:
Put a pot of water on to boil for your pasta, and then start on the pesto. In a food processor, blitz the almonds (peeled and unpeeled) a few times until finely chopped. Add the basil and olive oil and blitz a few more times, then add the lemon zest. lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper and process until smooth. The pesto will seem to be on the thicker side -- don't worry about this. Place the pesto in a large bowl.
When the water has come to a boil, salt the water, and add the pasta, being sure to take note of the package directions for the cooking time. In the meantime, add a few tablespoons of hot water to the pesto and whisk until it thins out a bit. When the pasta is done, reserve a ladle-ful of the pasta water and taste again for seasoning. Set aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the pesto and toss together, adding a little bit of the pasta water until the pesto coats the pasta nicely. Eat immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan on top, if you want. Serves 2 with left overs.
















London

 
I'm back from a glorious couple of days in London and going through my usual London-withdrawal (this was my third trip there, so I'm familiar with the feeling by now). While I love Rome London is the one city that always makes me feel like I should drop everything and move their immediately, cost of living and Brexit be damned. It's alive and exciting (Rome seems a bit sleepy in comparison) and it's packed with insane amounts of culture and history; everything from the British accent to the names of the subway --tube -- stops are downright charming (Piccadilly Circus! Elephant & Castle! Seven Sisters!) London aside, England in itself is a special place, the country that gave us Harry Potter, the Beatles, sticky toffee pudding, and Adele, and therefore you can only expect great things from it.

The main purpose of our trip was to visit our friend Rachel, who was performing the role of Don Anna in the Royal Opera's production of Don Giovanni (if you're having deja vu it's because I've mentioned Rachel on the blog before, most recently here and before that here). Rachel is a soprano -- she has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard, ever -- and is incredibly talented, having sung in quite a few of the world's top opera houses, all at the ripe old age of 34. Gorgeous voice aside, she is one of the funniest, kindest people you'll ever meet, and as she graciously hosted us during our stay, we got to spend time not only with her but also with her lovely husband and 3 adorable children. Proof Rachel is not only an excellent singer but also an excellent host: raisin scones with lemon curd, jam, and Devonshire cream for breakfast. Yummm. 

A few photos below, plus the main (mostly foodie) highlights of our stay -- consider all highly recommended if you too find yourself in London anytime soon.

 

THE GOOD EGG + CLARE

Upon arriving in London and without a moment to waste (we were only there four days, after all) we met up with our friend Clare, a native Londoner. Rome is quite a transient place, and you tend to meet lots of people (like Clare!) who stay for a bit before moving on. This may seem sad, and it is, a little, but it also means you inevitably have friends in various countries, which ensures many a reunion when you travel. Clare, a fellow foodie -- I knew we'd be friends after a conversation on the trickiness of making sourdough bread not long after we met -- took us to dinner at The Good Egg, a restaurant in the Oxford Circus neighborhood of the city. The Good Egg specializes in all sorts of shareable small plates with very, very un-Italian food. We ordered pita and feta whipped with mint and topped with crispy chickpeas, eggplant (I mean, aubergine) shawarma, roasted cauliflower with tahini, orange and juniper grilled octopus with potatoes, fried chicken with slaw and spicy honey, and steak served medium-rare with pomegranate chimichurri. For dessert, pretzel pecan pie and a babka s'more, or rather, two slices of toasted babka sandwiched around chocolate and marshmallows. Needless to say, the trip got off on the right foot (thank you Clare!) Pictures of the food (and a blurry selfie of us all) below.

 

DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY

I'd been intrigued by the "cronut" -- a seemingly to-good-to-be-true creation that is a cross between a doughnut and a croissant -- ever since their ascent to fame in New York City a couple of years ago. The creator, Dominique Ansel, has thankfully opened up a bakery in London, too, so I didn't have to travel too too far to experience this legendary sweet. The cronut of the month was filled with mirabelle plum jam and lychee ganache, and it did not disappoint -- the inside was flaky and multi-layered (croissant!) with sweet jam and gooey ganache in between said layers, while the outside was pillow-y and cloudlike (dougnut!) with a dusting of lemon sugar. Yummm. We also ordered the banoffee "paella," or butterscotch banana custard topped with caramelized bananas with a toasty, crumbly cookie crust. Verdict: the bakery lived up to alllll the hype. 

 

RIPPON CHEESE SHOP

Cronut cravings satisfied, we continued our way through London, with another goal in mind: cheese. As per tradition, we always get Rachel (a fellow foodie) cheese instead of flowers to congratulate her on a performance (past gifts include Pecorino, brie with truffles, and Parmigiano). With her show only one day away, we had to find and buy the best cheese we could find, so we headed to Rippon Cheese Shop, a tiny corner of cheese paradise packed with wheels and wedges and slabs of all sorts of delightful cheeses we never find in Rome (in particular: cheddar). After some intense deliberation we selected Winslade cheese as our post-opera gift ("soft and gooey with floral, piney notes") with clear instructions to let it sit for an hour before serving. We also picked up some cheddar for ourselves and a few small pieces of (complimentary) cheese for snacking. A special thanks to John (one of the store owners) for being so helpful in our epic cheese quest!

 

BUCKINGHAM PALACE

Fresh off the excitement of the Royal Wedding (yes, I did watch it, the whole thing, while eating scones and drinking tea amidst fervent wedding-dress commentary) plus two seasons of "The Crown," we had to make a stop at Buckingham Palace. It was everything a royal palace should be --- majestic, impressive, imposing, packed with tourists -- and provided a nice glimpse of the London eye. We took in the view while enjoying one of our newly purchased pieces of cheese, which is probably not something that Queen Elizabeth would approve of, but highly recommended.


RACHEL + THE ROYAL OPERA 

There are few things fancier than an evening at the opera, and when you're talking about an opera at the (gorgeous! regal!) Royal Opera House, you're talking fanciness and class on a whole new level. If you have a friend who is singing one of the lead roles in the show, the experience is all the more special (elegance and excitement) and so on Friday afternoon we headed to the Royal Opera House to see the Royal Opera's production of Don Giovanni, featuring Rachel as Don Anna. Quick recap: Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer (a real catch). The plot of Don Giovanni -- like many operas -- is a bit lengthy, complicated, a good mix of drama, heart break, and deceit, with a little comedy thrown in. I was thinking of summarizing the plot for you here but Wikipedia sums it all up nicely for us, stating simply: Don Giovanni, a young, arrogant, and sexually promiscuous nobleman, abuses and outrages everyone else in the cast until he encounters something he cannot kill, beat up, dodge, or outwit. Don Anna, Rachel's character, tries to avenge the death of her father who was murdered by Don Giovanni, and in the end, Don Giovanni is murdered by her father's ghost (see? I told you the plot wasn't a simple one!) Rachel was outstanding -- I am not exaggerating when I say she has the most beautiful voice I've ever heard -- and at the end of the show, received a very enthusiastic, appreciative applause from the audience, tying with none other than Don Giovanni himself. You can see the videos of Rachel we managed to take during the show here and also here





COLUMBIA FLOWER MARKET

On our last day in London (we had wisely booked a late flight back to Rome) we headed to the Columbia Road Flower Market. The market sells more than just flowers, with lots of cafes, bakeries and other little shops leading up to the actual flower market. The flower market itself, once you get there, is a sight to behold; it was packed, for starters, filled with both customers and vendors, and so much color -- there were sunflowers and begonias and foxgloves and roses and pretty much every flower you could ever imagine, plus ivy, chili peppers, and cacti, thrown in for good measure. In the imagined scenario in which I move to London, I have a kitchen filled with lots and lots of flowers from Columbia Market (orchids, if you were wondering). 

BRIXTON VILLAGE + MARKET ROW

While Italian food is and always will be my favorite kind of food, I do always welcome a break from the usual amatriciana and pizza (any expat in Italy who tells you they don't is lying). Market Row in Brixton Village was just the place to eat before heading back to Rome, with Japanese, Ethiopian, and Indian restaurants, to name just a few. After some thought we opted for Carioca, a Brazilian restaurant with an impressive brunch selection, where I ordered the Samba -- veggies, black beans, avocado, and crispy sweet potato on a corn muffin, served with eggplant puree, a poached egg, and arugula (or rocket). Anything with sweet potatoes and avocado is exciting (both are hard to come by in Rome, and if you do come across them, can be pricey) and corn muffins make everything better, important when you're about to leave one of the coolest cities in the world. 

Time certainly does fly when you're having fun -- I've been back in Rome a few days and am still in the midst of my I-miss-London woes, when can I go back?! -- but am keeping any nostalgia at bay by eating lots of the cheddar we bought home and by working on a few new summer-y recipes. New posts soon -- stay tuned.