Prosecco all'Anguria

As you may recall from this post here, in the Summer I become somewhat of a watermelon fiend, buying whole watermelons to cut up and eat all by myself (by now my sister knows better than to think I'll be sharing) and making things like this granita or this salad. Rome helps to feed my yearly watermelon addiction, selling cups of anguria/cocomero (both mean watermelon in Italian – I personally think cocomero is more fun to say) out of stands set up all over the city in the Summer, and conveniently for me, there is one just down the street from my apartment, aptly named Cocomero da Febbre, or "Watermelon Fever." Long story short, I truly believe watermelon is the most perfect of all summer foods, light and refreshing yet still filling, a sweet exclamation point in a sweltering hot day.

I don’t really like alcohol – I’ve never liked the taste – and I’d take a slice of this Red Wine Chocolate Cake (or these Red Wine Chocolate Truffles, for that matter) over a glass of actual wine any day. I’ve never acquired a taste for beer, either – I really wasn't very cool in high school or college, if you haven’t gotten that by now – but there is of course an exception to every rule, and, for the record: I love, love, love Prosecco. Its refreshing and light and bubbly, and if beverages could have a personality, Prosecco would probably be cheerful and outgoing and upbeat. It’s really the only thing I’ll happily drink -- my very favorite brand is Italy's Cantine Maschio, in case you were wondering -- and I love it as is, in Mimosas, or even in dessert like this Mimosa (Orange and Prosecco) Cake, so I can not only drink my Prosecco but eat it too. It is very likely that I will even experiment with Prosecco Raspberry Popsicles this summer (!!!) 

(You see where I’m going with this).

In keeping with the theme for the June round of Cucina Conversations – drinks! – I’ve prepared prosecco all’anguria, or Prosecco with watermelon, in which my two great loves join forces and result in a drink that is beyond refreshing, the perfect balance of bubbly Prosecco and sweet watermelon brightened up with a hint of lime. It is perfect served icy cold, and exactly what you need on a hot Summer day when your fan just isn't cutting it and you can't imagine ever being cold again.

A couple of notes: Make sure that the Prosecco and the watermelon are both ice cold when you add them to the blender, or make sure you chill the mixture well before serving. As you can see from the photo below, I used the above-mentioned Cantine Maschio Prosecco for this drink, and if you can find it, I recommend you do the same. If you buy a whole watermelon to cut up, chill it overnight in the refrigerator. Feel free to play around a bit with the quantities of Prosecco, watermelon, and lime as the ones I've provided below are flexible. Be sure to process everything in the blender
a bit long than you might think you need to to make sure the watermelon is completely incorporated.


As always, here are the June Cucina Conversations recipes from my fellow bloggers --

Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma has prepared caff√® freddo/mezzo freddo siciliano;

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is sharing her recipe for gelo di mellone, another Sicilian specialty; 

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi has made a cocktail called gamba di legno, made with triple sec, Cointreau, and sambuca;

Last but not least Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made a classic Pimms.

Last but not least, Carmen at The Heirloom Chronicles has made a dessert made with a drink, or rather, a semifreddo made with vincotto.


PROSECCO ALL'ANGURIA

Ingredients:
3 cups (450 grams) watermelon, cubed
400 ml Prosecco
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (about 50 ml) water

Directions:
Start with your sugar syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the water and the sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved. Set aside and let cool completely. In the meantime, cut the watermelon into chunks and remove the seeds as best you can.
Add the watermelon to the blender along with the Prosecco, lime juice, and lime zest. Blend until smooth. Add a bit of the sugar syrup to taste (a little at a time, you probably won't use it all) and when the flavor is just right, pour the Prosecco all'Anguria into glasses and serve ice cold. Garnish with a slice of lime if you want to be fancy. Serves 6-8.




Pasta al Pesto di Pistacchio

 
What with all the traveling I've been doing and weddings I've been attending, plus the new job I've just started, I've been too busy to cook or bake much of anything -- there have been three posts in a row on this blog that have in fact been non-recipe posts, never before seen in Pancakes & Biscotti history. Things have finally calmed down a bit and I'm relieved to be back in my kitchen here in Rome, limited counter space and moody oven and all. This past weekend I've taken a nice deep breath and gotten to work sorting out some Summer-y recipes for you all (translation: recipes requiring as little heat as possible, as there is no air conditioning in my apartment). 

But let's talk about pesto, shall we? I happen to love pesto -- its easy and no-cook, for starters, and smells and tastes just like Summer -- but pesto and I didn't always get along so well. My mom made lots of it when I was growing up, and I was always baffled as to why one would ruin a perfectly good dish of pasta with stuff that was Oscar-the-Grouch green, a poor substitute for much tastier tomato sauce. As with most things I insisted I didn't like when I was little, all it took was me actually trying pesto to realize that actually, once you got past the startlingly green color -- more emerald than Grinch colored, actually -- it was good, great even, and that Summer I dove in to Pesto Land, helping my mom make things like pesto pizza and pesto lasagna for dinner. Pesto quickly scooted its way in to the same category as ricotta cheese, avocado, and citrus desserts, or rather, foods that I eventually grew to not just like but actually love in good time. As I have become much wiser with age, so have my taste buds, clearly. 

I can best describe today's Pistachio Pesto as pesto, but pesto with a Phd -- its pesto, yes, but its gone and gotten its degree, become a little smarter and more enriched and has probably published a few articles by now. The flavor is more nuanced and complex thanks to not just the typical flower-y basil but also bright, refreshing parsley; the pistachios have a stronger, nuttier, more substantial flavor than the mild-flavored pine nuts that you usually find in pesto. The garlic adds a little spicy sharpness and a boost of flavor, and the cheese, well -- a good dose of cheese is always a good idea, especially where pasta is concerned. Deliciousness aside, this recipe is also quick with minimal heat use (you just have to cook the pasta) and if you're anything like me you'll be making it all Summer long.

A couple of notes: This recipe is flexible -- you can substitute Parmesan cheese for the Grana Padano if you want, or if you have no pistachios on hand, walnuts work great (the flavor will be a bit different but still good). I'm not a huge garlic fan, so one clove was enough for me, but feel free to add another if you'd like. If its super hot out where you are, you can also eat the pasta and pesto at room temperature. Not in the mood for pasta? You can also serve this pesto with veggies, chicken, or fish. Finally, don't worry about the paper-y skins on the pistachios -- they blend right in to the pesto.

Looking for more pesto recipes? I've also got this classic Basil Pesto and this Sun-dried Tomato Pesto. Looking for more summer-y pistachio recipes? Allow me to recommend this Pistachio Semifreddo. Want another summer-y pasta recipe? Allow me to recommend this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil.  

PASTA AL PESTO DI PISTACCHIO

Ingredients:
1 1/2 (packed) cups (40 grams) basil leaves
1 (packed) cup (20 grams) parsley
1/2 cup (70 grams) unsalted, toasted, and shelled pistachios
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons (30 grams) freshly grated Grana Padano cheese, plus more for serving
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup ( ) olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) pasta of your choice

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

In a food processor, blend the basil, parsley, pistachios, garlic, and salt, adding a steady stream of olive oil in through the feed as you go -- or, if you're like me and your food processor doesn't have a feed to pour the oil in to, just open the top of the food processor and added a little at a time as you blend (this worked fine for me). If of course you wanted to be really traditional about this you could also use a mortar and pestle (pestare, where pesto comes from, does mean to crush in Italian) but its too hot out for that, isn't it?!
 
Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl as you go to make sure that all the ingredients have a chance to be blended in. Blend until the pistachios are finally chopped and your pesto is looking like the photo below -- this make take a little longer than you expected, at least if you have a mini food processor like I do, so be patient. Place the pesto in a bowl and stir in the cheese.
 
Salt the now boiling water and add whatever pasta you have selected -- follow the package instructions to make sure the pasta is al dente (I cooked the penne for 10 minutes). When the pasta is done, reserve a little of the starchy cooking water, then drain it. Place the pasta in the bowl, add the pesto, and toss until well combined, adding a little cooking water if necessary to bring everything together. Serve with more freshly grated cheese on top. Serves 4.

 Recipe slightly adapted from Lidia Bastianich.

























Matt & Lakshmi Get Married


I can't seem to keep still lately -- first I was in Prague, then Budapest, and then I headed back to my hometown of East Greenwich, Rhode Island for the wedding of my brother, Matt, and my sister-in-law, Lakshmi (you may remember them from this post). Lakshmi is from Chennai, India, and met my brother Matt at Tufts University a few years back, where they were both getting their Masters degrees. She is funny, intelligent, gorgeous, and kind -- to use the cliché, truly a beautiful person inside and out -- and if that wasn't enough, an excellent cook, now having successfully introduced the whole family to Indian food (lemon rice and biryani are my favorites). Culinarily speaking, she's taught me that curry powder is not authentically Indian, but there is such a thing as curry leaves; that you just say "naan," not "naan bread," as naan already means bread and naan bread is thus "bread bread;" and the same applies to chai tea (you just say chai, I've learned). I'm so happy and grateful to have her as a part of our family, and so very excited to have a sister-in-law. I really couldn't ask for a better one.

So! Some of you reading this post may be a bit confused -- after all, my brother Matt and Lakshmi did get married last year, in a lovely civil ceremony in February -- but the wedding this June was a second, more elaborate wedding, with a Hindu ceremony and a reception in Newport. We were lucky to be joined by Lakshmi's family who came all the way from Singapore: her Uncle Suresh, Aunty Sheela, Aunty Padmini, Uncle Prabhat, and her cousin, Hima, all of whom were incredibly lovely and so fun to get to know and spend time with. With no further ado, here's a little post on the week's festivities.

MEHNDI + PRE-WEDDING RITUAL
We kicked off the wedding celebrations with a pre-wedding beauty ritual and mehendi. For the ritual, we all took turns applying oil to Lakshmi's hair plus a paste made of sandalwood powder to her face and arms, a little beautifying spa-treatment type ritual (sandalwood has properties that leave the skin glowing and wedding-ready). Afterwards we moved inside for the mehndi (also known as henna) party. The artist Lakshmi hired was incredible -- she did all the designs free form, no stencils, and worked extremely quickly. Food blogger that I am, the whole process to apply the mehndi actually reminded me a bit of cake decorating, with the mehndi being reminiscent of frosting. My brother and cousin even got some some mehndi, and Lakshmi, as the bride, had both the front and back of her hands done. The only tricky part was not moving your hands too much as the mehndi dried and hardened -- the more you moved them, the less dark the mehndi would turn out, I learned. After about two and a half hours we were able to scrape off the dried henna and had lovely orange tattoos that turned dark brown by the next day. I'm sorry to report that a week in my henna tattoos are quite faded BUT it was fun while it lasted. Here are a few photos:

THE CEREMONY
On Saturday, we all woke up super early to get to the 11:00 ceremony in Ashland, MA, about an hour drive from Rhode Island. Why so early, you may ask? Well, the women of the family had all decided to wear saris (!!!) and it turns out they can be a bit complicated to put on, at least if you’re not used to them. Lakshmi’s stupendous cousin Hima came over at 7:30 am to help us tie and pleat and pin our saris (surprise surprise, mine was still too long after much pleating and folding – story of my short-person life). When we got to the Sri Lakshmi Temple we were instructed to take our shoes off (no shoes allowed in the temple) and served rosewater milk as a welcome when we entered (deliciously refreshing). As if henna and a sari weren’t enough (!!!) the women attending the wedding also all received little jasmine flower garlands for their hair. And the ceremony? Well, it was very unlike the Catholic or Christian ceremonies I had seen at all the other weddings I’d attended, and I absolutely loved it. The vibe was relaxed – so much so that the babies and little kids in attendance were free to run around and even play near the altar – and snacks were even distributed during the ceremony (YES). The ceremony was conducted by a Hindu priest who recited prayers in Sanskrit, and my parents and Lakshmi’s Aunt and Uncle were on the stage with them the whole time as well, as parents are a key part of the wedding ceremony. One of the most important parts of the ceremony was the tying of the thali, which is a gold pendant strung through a thread of turmeric, sort of the equivalent of the wedding ring we are familiar with it. The thali is taken around to be blessed by all the wedding guests, then tied in three knots around the bride’s neck by the groom -- perhaps this is where the term "tie the knot comes from?! -- after which they are officially married (!!!). At the end of the ceremony, Matt and Lakshmi were showered with flower petals thrown by all the guests as a blessing as they start their new life together. They ended things playing a few ice breaking games that the newlyweds traditionally play to get to know each other -- they were both presented with a big pot (kind of like a vase) from which they had to both try and fish out a ring to see who could get to it first (see photos below). After, they had to try and pry a coconut out of one another’s hands, the idea being that Matt should let Lakshmi win at least once (he was clued in on this after round 1). See what I’m saying about this being a far more fun ceremony than the usual church one?! 
 

THE RECEPTION
On Sunday we headed to Newport, Rhode Island for the wedding reception at Belle Mer. Belle Mer is right on the ocean -- Rhode Island is after all nicknamed the Ocean State -- and the venue was spectacular. My mom did a wonderful job planning everything from the menu (excellent mini-dessert selection) to the flowers (extremely colorful!) to the favors (chocolates from Sweet Twist in Rhode Island), and there was even a Del's Lemonade stand outside (see "Food" in the sections below) for my brother, a huge Del's fan. After some appetizers and drinks outside we all headed in to the venue where Lakshmi's Aunty Sheela, my dad, and my cousin Dylan all did gave wonderful toasts (I may have shed a tear or two). The real star of the wedding reception however was not Matt or Lakshmi, but rather Laya, the 10 month old baby of my brother and sister-in-law's friends Aarthi and Easwaran. She was the sunniest, happiest baby I've ever met and made friends with all the guests. Photos below!

...AND A LITTLE FOOD!
No trip (or post) on this blog is complete without a little food! I made a stop at Del's Lemonade with Siddarth, Sangeetha, Drew, and Aditya, my brother and sister-in-law’s awesome friends from grad school who were in town for the wedding (I wish they lived in Rome so we could hang out all the time). Del’s is a Rhode Island institution – you can’t find it anywhere else --  and it isn’t just any lemonade. Nope, Del’s makes frozen lemonade, reminiscent of a lemon sorbet, but drinkable, and incredibly refreshing on a hot day. It comes in other flavors like watermelon and blueberry, but I like the classic lemon the best.     
Next up, we headed to T’s Restaurant with Lakshmi’s family to have them experience a true American breakfast, bacon, pancakes, eggs, and all. T’s is also unique to Rhode Island – there are a few of them around the state – and we try and go for breakfast every time we are home (the perfect antidote to one too many Italian cornetti). I went for the eggs benedict and home fries (swoon). 

Last but not least – a trip home is never complete without a stop at Hilltop Creamery! Hilltop has been around since I was a little kid –visits there after school were always a treat – and they offer a huge variety of super un-Italian flavors you’d never find in Italy (cake batter ice cream, anyone?!) soft serve, ice cream sundaes, milkshakes, and ice cream sandwiches (see the menu below). Sorry not sorry, gelato.

 

And that was our week in Rhode Island! I'll be back soon with actual recipes -- in the meantime, here are two photos that didn't quite fit in to the above categories but I still wanted to share. Below is Snoopy, our sweet senior beagle, ready to eat with that pre-meal glint in his eyes, and the traditional airport departure selfie with my sister and amazing Dad. Have a good week everyone!