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 caffè 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.

























Budapest

Here's Part II of our vacation -- Budapest! I was interested to see how it would compare to Prague and must say that between the two cities, I liked Budapest the best. It was bigger, with less tourists, a cooler vibe, and there was more to do (though perhaps Prague gets points for being more picturesque). Here we are ready to explore the city despite taking a 7am flight to get there:

GREAT MARKET HALL

It was cloudy and threatened rain when we first arrived in Budapest, so we made our very first stop the Great Market Hall, a large, covered three floor market in the city center selling (of course) Hungarian paprika, plus fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, pastries, wine, chocolate, and jams, to name just a few. The third floor of the market houses a bunch of different food stands, thus making the Great Market Hall a place to kill 3 birds with 1 stone: you can do your shopping, have lunch, and buy a souvenir or two for everyone back home. We bought some hemp crackers from a stand selling hemp Nutella, hemp chocolate, and hemp face cream, among many other hemp-based products, plus some paprika, wine, and a Budapest T-shirt or two.  

MAIN ATTRACTIONS

The Chain Bridge
You can't visit Budapest without visiting the Chain Bridge, which was the first bridge to be built (in 1849) over the Danube to connect Buda and Pest. That's right -- Buda and Pest are actually two separate places, and only became one city in 1873. Buda is much hillier, offers much better panoramas of the city, and is the site of the Hapsburg Palace, while Pest is completely flat and contains most of the cities best restaurants, bars and cafes. Fun fact: the Chain Bridge is decorated with two lions which, if you look closely, have no tongues, intricate as they are. It's not clear why these were omitted, but I imagine constructing huge stone lions is a big job, and I too would've probably gotten a little lazy with the details there too at the end.



St. Stephen's Basilica
On our walking tour of the city, we stopped at St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent István-bazilika in Hungarian) which is named after Stephen I, the first King of Hungary. St. Stephen's right hand is supposedly housed in the reliquary of the basilica -- there is some dispute about whether or not this is his actual hand or not (he did die after all in 1038!) but the Catholic Church certainly seems to think that it is, and once a year, on August 20, parades the hand around in the Holy Right Hand ( Szent Jobb) procession. Right hand or not, its a gorgeous basilica, don't you think?

Parliament + Hero Square
Two more main stops in Budapest -- we paid a visit to The Parliament of Hungary, which is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest, not to mention pretty stunning; Hero Square contains Hungary's tomb of the unknown soldier.

THE FOOD!!!

We found that Hungarian food was similar to Czech food, in that many of the cuisine's main dishes were meat based, on the heavier side, not-so-photogenic, and completely delicious (it is always nice to get a break from pizza or pasta). Here were a few of the standout restaurants and dishes for us...

Mákos Guba
On our first evening in Budapest, we were lucky to be shown around by a local (there's nothing better when you're traveling!) Deni is the fiancé of my lovely friend/colleague/morning coffee buddy Lavinia, and lucky for us, is Hungarian, from Budapest. He happened to be in the city the same time that we were, and offered to meet us for dinner, bringing with him as well 3 umbrellas for the 3 of us who had not anticipated the rain (phew!) Thanks to Deni, we not only were saved by the rain, we also had the best meal we had probably the whole trip, at Mákos Guba. Per his suggestion we ordered a savory crepe (palacsinta) filled with beef and served in a paprika-y sauce; csirkepaprikás, or roast chicken served in a paprika-based sauce with a side of delightful, gnocchi-like dumplings, quite different from the ones we had in Prague; and goulash, the classic Hungarian beef soup that was more soup than the Czech version. To temper all the heavy meat, sauces, and paprika, we also ordered uborkasaláta, a light, refreshing cucumber salad served with sour cream, which I ended up ordering almost every day we were in Budapest. For dessert, Deni made sure we tried mákos guba -- the restaurant's specialty, as per its name -- which is a poppy seed bread pudding, served warm with a vanilla custard sauce. After all this food, we rolled to Deni's car as he was kind enough to give us a ride home. Köszönöm Deni!

Csarnok Vendeglo + Frici Papa
Soups are also a pretty important part of Hungarian cuisine, I learned, so I made time to try not just goulash but also hagymaleves, a Hungarian onion soup (this one was served in a bread bowl!) at Csarnok Vendeglo, another Lavinia and Deni recommendation. It was filling, flavorful, and still a lot lighter than the meat-and-potatoes we had been consuming the past week. Another stand out was a soup made of beef broth and cloud-like dumplings we tried at Frici Papa, also recommended by Lavinia and Deni -- I unfortunately did not write down the Hungarian name of this one, but it was very cozy.



Kurtőskalács (Chimney Cakes)
What's not to like about flaky pastry dough (think a croissant crossed with a cinnamon bun) that's brushed with butter, dipped in a cinnamon sugar bath, and then served warm?! On our last night in Budapest we made a point to try kurtőskalács, or chimney cakes, the pastry that was brought to Prague where it became the trdelník mentioned here. Delicious as these were, I think I'd unfortunately have a hard time recreating them at home, as they're slow roasted over a charcoal fire as they're basted with the butter -- very fancy. You can see a video on my Instagram account over here.
    

RUIN PUBS

The ruin pubs (which came in to being about a decade ago) are pubs, yes, but not your average pubs -- these are pubs that look more like art installations, or the final project of a graduate art student. They have an artsy, hipster vibe to them, all decorated with random, repurposed items -- old computers and board games, antique furniture, lawn trolls, Christmas lights, dolls and much much more. The name "ruin pubs" comes from the fact that the bars are all set up in abandoned buildings (example: a Communist era department store, a defunct factory, etc). One of the ruin bars, Szimpla Kert (which we visited) was named 3rd best bar in the world (!!!) by Lonely Planet. You can find a list of the better known ruin pubs here, if you're traveling to Budapest any time soon.
Outside the pubs there is a little store that sells all sorts of quirky gadgets, jewelry, and art work. We picked up the little creature below and named her Petra (a nice Hungarian name) as a reminder of our excellent trip.
And so ended our Eastern European adventure! As per usual, here are a few photos of beautiful Budapest to close out the post -- I'll be traveling back home to Rhode Island this week, so I'll be back soon with blog posts about my trip home as well as a few Summer-y recipes.