Expo Milan 2015


My apologies for the lack of posts lately, but my dad is in town this week (yay!) so things have been a bit busy. His trips to Rome usually consist of (many) great meals out, visits to various museums and exhibits, and overall a lot of hanging out and catching up. This time around, we decided to switch things up and spend a weekend in Milan for the Expo. For those of you who aren't so familiar with the Expo, here's a little summary: Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition hosted in Milan, Italy, that opened in May and just came to close this past week. The theme of this Expo is food, or more specifically "being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium." The 140 participating countries had their own pavilions which focused on how to meet this need. In addition, the pavilions also gave everyone an opportunity to explore their countries best gastronomic traditions (a foodie's delight).

Initially, we had our doubts about going to the Expo. We'd heard beforehand that the lines at certain pavilions were ridiculously long and that the event was beyond crowded, but we decided to give it a shot for my grandfather who attended the World's Fair in NYC back in 1939 and was interested to know what this most recent Expo was like. The verdict? The rumors were true. The expo was absolutely PACKED -- 7 hour wait for the Japanese pavilion alone! -- and  were only able to see the actual inside of very few pavilions. We did manage, however, to turn the Expo into a food festival (shocking, I know) skipping the long pavilion lines and opting for shorter queues at the little stands and restaurants set up for some of the countries (it's always a treat to eat non-Italian food every once in a while). We sampled Ethiopian, Mexican, Iranian, Dutch, and Turkish food, as well as hot chocolate, gelato, and Franciacorta wine  from Italy. 


Expo aside, we also had a great meal in Milan on Sundaybefore leaving, at Ratanà, not far from the main train station, Milano Centrale. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone going to Milan -- many of the dishes used seasonal ingredients and all were quite creative.We ordered tagliolini with tomatoes; pumpkin and apple risotto; roasted figs with ricotta (something I have to try and make at home!); as well as a chocolate cake with chocolate cream  (swoon) plus dessert wine and cookies. So, enough writing, I'll leave you now with the photos from our weekend -- we'll have a few new recipes for your next week!

At the entrance to the Expo, in front of a statue of what looks to be a carb king (our favorite, obviously)
Dad in front of the statue representing wine (his favorite!)
Dad and Allie sampling some milk and white hot chocolate to start off the day at the Expo (ignore my finger in the way)
Spicy chicken, beef, and njera (bread) from Ethiopia
Bittenballen and fries from Holland
Various teas from Iran
Desserts and cinnamon tea from Iran
Tacos al pastor in Mexico
More Tacos al pastor!
Roasted lamb, vegetables, and rice from Turkey

Bolivian pavilion!
Iranian pavilion!
Iranian pavilion, inside -- a presentation on pistachios and saffron
Israeli pavilion
Mexican pavilion
Rwandan pavilion (photo especially for my friend Pierre from Rwanda!)
U.S.A pavilion
U.S.A pavilion, continued

U.S.A pavilion, inside -- note Rhode Island!
Me and my sister with our region of the U.S

U.S.A pavilion, continued
Food stand at the U.S.A pavilion -- burgers, barbecue, and lobster role on the menu, along with chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and apple pie

And some photos from our amazing lunch at Ratanà...

                                  Roasted figs with ricotta
Fresh taglioni with 3 tomato sauce
 Pumpkin and apple risotto 
Chocolate cake with chocolate cream

Dessert wine and cookies






Roast Chicken with Olives, Grapes, and Rosemary



As you could probably guess from this prosciutto and nectarine salad, this watermelon and feta salad, and this salmon with strawberry salsa, I'm a big fan mixing sweet and savory ingredients, and so it is no surprise this recipe for chicken with roasted grapes and olives was at the very top of my "Fall Recipes" list (similar to, but not to be confused with, my "Fall Pumpkin Recipes" list. I love lists). 

Now, it's very likely that you're feeling skeptical about this recipe. Chicken? With grapes? And grapes? With olives? Like most sweet and savory pairings, the ingredients seem like an odd match at first, but then work so well together that you wonder why you never thought to put them together before. So, let's get to it: the olives and the grapes. They're amazing together, surprising ingredient soulmates. Both grapes and olives are usually eaten cold, as a snack or something to nibble on -- a bit of an afterthought -- but here they are elevated, completely transformed with a little heat. The flavors of each are intensified, and the grapes in particular become nice and caramelized (think of the roasting as a kind of ingredient makeover). The saltiness of the olives harmonizes perfectly with the sweetness of the grapes, and both play nicely with the sauteed shallot added into the mix, just to keep things interesting. The chicken here is also fantastic -- browning it in the pan first assures it's nice and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and it absorbs the flavors of the shallots, grapes, and olives while roasting. Yum.

This dish is super quick to make -- it's just a matter of cooking the chicken for a few minutes, tipping the grapes and olives into the same pan, and putting the whole thing in the oven, making it a perfect quick weeknight dinner.That being said, it is also fancy and elegant enough for a dinner party (much better more interesting than the usual roast chicken, no?) and the roasted grapes and rosemary make this a perfect main course for Autumn. Enjoy everyone!


ROAST CHICKEN WITH OLIVES, GRAPES, AND ROSEMARY

Ingredients:
3 pounds (1 1/3 kg) chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, and/or breasts), with skin and bones
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup seedless grapes*
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives 
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees with a rack in middle. Pat chicken dry, and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet (use a cast-iron skillet if you’ve got one) over medium- high heat until it shimmers. Working in two batches, brown the chicken, skin side down first and turning them over once, about 5 minutes per batch. I like to take a lot of care in this step, not moving the chicken until the skin releases itself and has a nice bronze on it. Next, saute the shallot in the pan until soft (in the original recipe, the shallots are added raw and then allowed to cook along with the olives and grapes that you'll see in the next step, but I like caramelizing them a bit). 

Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, and surround the pieces with grapes and olives. If you can't find seedless grapes (as is my case here in Italy) -- it doesn't take long to halve the grapes and remove the seeds, as I did.* Roast the chicken in the oven until it has just cooked through and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken, grapes, and olives to a platter, then add wine, rosemary, and chicken broth to the pan juices in skillet. Bring liquid to a boil, scraping up any brown bits, until it has reduced by half, for 2 to 3 minutes. Strain sauce, if desired, and then pour it over the chicken. Garnish with extra rosemary and serve immediately.



Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Apple Crisps with Pecan-Oatmeal Topping

I feel a little bad for apples. After all, every Fall without fail, I get so caught up in Pumpkin Season --  making pumpkin pie, cake, french toast, and muffins -- that I forget that pumpkin isn't the only Fall ingredient in town. I'm not sure why this happens -- apples are just as wonderful and as versatile as pumpkin, and pair wonderfully with all the classic Fall spices, like cinnamon and ginger, after all -- so this year I'm trying to be a bit more fair in my autumnal baking, and include both pumpkin and apple equally. Hopefully no one feels left out now.

So, apples! In the U.S, Fall is synonymous with apples, and apple season is a pretty big deal. The arrival of October means apple donuts and apple cider, plus visits to the apple orchard for apple picking, which translates in to homemade apple pie, caramel apples, or apple crisp. This brings us to today's recipe. Apple Crisp, for those of you who do not know, is similar to the cobbler I explained previously on this blog. It consists of a layer of baked fruit, usually tossed with a little sugar, that is then covered with topping, made from butter, sugar, and flour. 

I don't think I would be exaggerating  here to say that this is perhaps the best Apple Crisp you will ever make or eat. Let me explain: the apples here are left to shine, complimented (not overwhelmed) by just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar, and the topping is reminiscent of an oatmeal cookie -- spicy and buttery almost caramel-y thanks to the brown sugar, with pieces of crunchy pecan throughout. Needless to say, this is all taken to a whole other level of deliciousness when served warm out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (I've never met a crisp or cobbler not made better by vanilla ice cream). In short, this is exactly what you want to eat on a chilly Fall day -- it really doesn't get any cozier or more autumnal than this, my friends. 


A couple of notes: As you may have guessed from these individual french toasts, these mini crostate, and these tiramisu, I am a big fan of individual desserts (there's something kind of special about having a crisp just for yourself) but you could also probably bake this in one large serving if you wanted to. I used a mix of red and green apples for this crisp as I like the mix of sweet and tart flavors, but you can use whatever kind of apples you want. Enjoy everyone!


APPLE CRISPS WITH PECAN-OATMEAL TOPPING

Ingredients for filling:
4 medium apples (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored, chopped into
1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, or more to taste
1 tablespoon flour

Ingredients for topping:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch 
cubes
2/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
Vanilla ice cream

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter four 1 1/4-cup ramekins. Mix all filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Let the apples sit for 5 minutes. Divide the filling among the prepared ramekins. Bake the apple mixture until bubbling at edges, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Blend the first 7 ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until coarse meal forms, then mix in the pecans.

Crumble the topping evenly over the apples. Bake until the topping is golden brown, apples are tender, and the apple juices are bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.





Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.



Pumpkin Spice French Toast


The arrival of Sept. 1 in the U.S means -- along with going back to school and cooler weather -- that it is officially Pumpkin Season. Americans love their pumpkin in the Fall, whether it be in the form of pie, donuts, muffins, cake, or even coffee (my parents reported that this year, our local Dunkin Donuts in Rhode Island was already selling pumpkin spice lattes on August 31st). When I was little, I remember that going back to school in September was always tough after the Summer, but it wasn't so bad when I knew that my mom would probably have a few pumpkin donuts waiting for us when we got home.

The pumpkin trend does not seem to have caught on in Italy -- my friends here know pumpkin only as a vegetable, better used in the filling for ravioli than as the main ingredient in dessert. Not to be deterred, I have found a few stores in Rome where I can buy canned pumpkin (Castroni, for example, for those of you in Rome) and have made my annual "Pumpkin Recipe List," which this year, consists of things like pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pot de creme, and pumpkin bread pudding, along with this pumpkin french toast.


As last year's pumpkin pancakes taught me, there's no better way to start a Fall morning than with a pumpkin-y breakfast, and this French toast was indeed so very perfect on a rainy, cold, October morning. Here we have slices of white bread, dipped in to a sweet,  cinnamon-y custard before being fried in butter and topped off with a generous dose of maple syrup. The pumpkin flavor here, normally somewhat subtle, is brought to life by its usual suspects (cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg) and in terms of presentation, the orange of the pumpkin here is also lovely. 

 A couple of notes: this dish is super easy to throw together, but if you want to make things even easier for yourself, you can even prepare the custard the night before and keep it in a Tupperware container -- the spices have time to infuse the whole mixture when they sit over night. Definitely use day old bread here, as fresh bread will fall apart when dipped in the custard mixture. If you only have fresh bread on hand, you can also lightly toast it and let it cool, and use that. I like my maple syrup served warm (this is how my mom always served it to us when I was little, warmed up either on the stove or in the microwave) so give this a try! It really is preferable to cold syrup. Enjoy everyone!


PUMPKIN SPICE FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:
3/4 cup milk  
1/2 cup pumpkin puree  
4 eggs  
2 Tbsp brown sugar  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract  
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon  
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg  
1/4 tsp ground ginger  
8 slices day old white bread (Challah or French Bread works well here)  
Butter, for skillet and for serving
Maple syrup, for serving

Directions:
In a mixing bowl whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until well combined. Feel free to add more spices at this point if you want (I always start out with these quantities, and then add a little more).
Pour the egg mixture into a shallow bowl.


Heat the skillet over medium low heat and add a little butter. Dip the bread into the egg mixture, turning it over on both sides (wait a few seconds so that it absorbs some of it). Transfer to the bread to the skillet and cook until golden brown on bottom, then flip the french toast to the opposite side and again cook until golden brown. Serve the french toast warm with butter and maple syrup. Makes 8 pieces.
 



Recipe from Cooking Classy (www.cookingclassy.com).


Cheesecake Brownies

 I thought that after discovering these perfect fudge brownies, I would never have to make another brownie recipe again. After all, how could I do better than a pan (or two...or three...) of rich, dense, chocolate-y goodness, pure brownie nirvana? What else could I ever want for in a brownie?? How could perfection ever be perfected upon?? The answer to these questions came when I stumbled across this recipe for cheesecake brownies, chosen on a whim to celebrate my friend Yasmine's birthday. Bottom line: iust when I thought that the classic chocolate brownie couldn't get any better, I went ahead and swirled in a layer of cheesecake on the top, and now I have two favorite brownie recipes, which is always a good thing.

Now: cheesecake brownies are not a new dessert. I had seen recipes for them before, but had always thought (stupidly!) that cheesecake and brownies were best kept separate, left to shine on their own. They would probably be too rich when put together, I thought, and more importantly, would a scoop of vanilla ice cream really go well over a brownie if there was already cheesecake there?! The verdict here is that yes, these are rich, but in the best of ways. The tangy cheesecake complements the sweetness of the brownies perfectly, and the brownies themselves are soft and fudge-y, studded with mini chocolate chips to add an extra chocolate punch. As you can probably guess these made an awesome birthday present (is there really anything better than homemade brownies on your birthday?!) and were also a huge hit with the colleagues that Yasmine so generously chose to share a few of these with.

A couple of notes: I increased the recipe by a third because I wanted thicker brownies, but if you want the cheesecake to brownie ratio to be more even, you can cut the brownie ingredients  down by a third. If you do this, you can also use an 8 inch pan, if you'd like.

CHEESECAKE BROWNIES

Ingredients for the brownies:
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

 

Ingredients for the cheesecake:
8 ounces  cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
5 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Butter a 9-inch rectangular pan. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. In a medium bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. When the chocolate is cool, whisk it in to the sugar and egg mixture until it is well combined. Sttir in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, then the chocolate chips. Spread the brownie batter evenly in the prepared pan.

In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, the yolk, 5 tablespoons of sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Distribute the cream cheese mixture in eight dollops across the top of the brownie mixture, then take a dull knife swirl the cream cheese mixture with the chocolate batter. 

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set. Let the brownies cool completely before cutting. Makes 20 brownies.