Spaghetti with zucchine, egg, Parmesan, and basil

I admit it -- I've been neglecting this blog a bit lately. Blogging, my weekly ritual, has recently become an if-I-find-time activity, and for a couple of reasons. For starters, it's been competing with the Spanish language, as I need to pass a UN Spanish test according to the new hiring rules of my workplace (note: I haven't given Spanish much thought since I graduated college in 2011, and fervently wish they'd test my Italian instead). Much of my time has been occupied by a combination of private lessons and copious amounts of homework (tarea) and while I'm happy to dust off (desempolvar -- okay, I'll stop now) my Spanish, it's time-consuming. Work in my new division is intensely busy, visitors, as welcome as they are, have been non-stop (a post on that later, when I find the time!) and the weather has been so spot on lately that any free time I have is spent outside in cool places like this one. PHEW.

With such little time to cook and write, I knew I'd have to use my precious free time very wisely, and I was certain that this pasta recipe -- from expat blogger and cookbook author Rachel Roddy -- would never in a million years disappoint. If you're not familiar: every Roddy recipe is spot on, perfectly seasoned, positively delicious, and if I was going to write about one recipe in the next week, I knew this one would be a very, very safe bet. (Spoiler, I was right).

So! This recipe is reminiscent of the beloved and well-known Roman classic, pasta alla carbonara, but with a few serious distinctions; think of this as carbonara's distant, vegetarian cousin. Still present is the ever-classic spaghetti, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and the addition of a beaten egg that is cooked quickly with the heat of the pasta to form a sauce -- from there, however, we swerve off the beaten path into a different sort of pasta dish, one where vegetables take the place of traditional guanciale, the more approachable, familiar Parmesan nudges the classic Pecorino out of the race, and there's the addition of a little bright basil. The resulting dish manages to be luxurious yet still strangely light -- think of this as comfort food, summer edition -- with a silky, luscious sauce, sweet summer-y onions and zucchine, and a sunny sprinkle of synonymous-with-summer-basil. A dish of this is downright perfect with a little extra Parmesan grated over the top, eaten forkful by twirly forkful as you review the subjunctive, or speak to yourself out loud in Spanish, or whatever it is you choose to do. Bonus: this is a great use of all that mind-bogglingly abundant zucchine (or zucchini as we Americans call it) that will be taking over your garden this season. Just saying.

A couple of notes: You could very easily substitute another vegetable for the zucchine here -- peas or asparagus might also be nice. The addition of pancetta or guanciale to make this a little more carbonara-y would be delish, and I have a feeling you could easily swap the Parmesan for Pecorino if you'd like. I used spaghetti here but Rachel's recipe actually uses linguine; any long pasta would probably work here. Grate the cheese with the smallest grate of your cheese grater. Lastly, be sure to cook the zucchine and onion over low heat, slowly, so they soften and cook but don't turn brown. 

Looking for other recipes with zucchine? I've got this Zucchini, Corn, and Tomato Pie, this Three Cheese Zucchini Tart, and these Stuffed Zucchini. Looking for more summer pastas? I've got this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, this Sundried Tomato Pesto, this Classic Basil Pesto, this Pasta with Swordfish and Eggplant, and this Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil, and Mozzarella.

SPAGHETTI WITH ZUCCHINE, EGG, PARMESAN, BASIL
Recipe courtesy of Rachel Roddy

Ingredients:
A little less than a pound (400 grams) spaghetti or linguine
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions
About 3 (300 grams) zucchine   
3/4 cup (70 grams) freshly grated Parmesan
2 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
8 basil leaves
Salt freshly ground black pepper
Extra Parmesan for serving

Directions:
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Next, start with the veggies -- peel and then thinly slice the onions, then cut the zucchine in to strips (about 5cm long and 2mm thick, to be precise). In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil (medium-low heat) and then cook the onion and zucchine with a pinch of salt, being sure that they don't brown; you want them to be softened and cooked but without much color. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Once the water is boiling, add some salt and then add the linguine. Cook until al dente (about 7-9 minutes usually, check the package instructions). 

As the pasta cooks, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, cheese, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper, and set aside. As you approach the end of your pasta cooking time, heat up the pan with the zucchine, onion, and olive oil again, until they're thoroughly warmed throughout. 
Once your pasta has achieved al dente status, drain it, being sure to reserve a bit of the cooking water beforehand. Add the pasta to the frying pan and toss and stir it to mix it with the vegetables. Turn off the heat and, working quickly, add the egg mixture and a bit of pasta cooking water, then stir and swirl the pan vigorously until each strand is coated with a nice Parmesan-y egg sauce. 
Add a little more pasta cooking water if needed and stir again. Rip the basil up, toss it into the pan, and stir again. Serve immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan on top, if you'd like. Serves 4. 

































Strawberry Cream Biscuits

One of my quirkier quirks -- besides a passion for list making and the tendency to stop to pet every dog I meet -- is that I read cookbooks the way some people read best-selling novels. My nightstand, for example, usually has a cookbook or two stacked on it for pre-bedtime reading, and I have even been known to haul cookbooks with me to the beach for summer reading, too. Following a particularly tough break up, I remember finding solace and calm in reading through the main course section of Smitten Kitchen's first cookbook, my version of what for the average person is the requisite box of post break-up chocolates. I have a vast collection that I love dearly, with a few stand outs; either of the aforementioned Smitten Kitchen books, for starters, not to mention American Cake, Dolce Italiano, and my new favorite, The Fearless Baker.

I've mentioned this book before; it was one of my most anticipated Christmas presents, a cookbook centered completely on baking -- cookies, cakes, breads, you name it -- written by Erin Jean McDowell. Erin is a pastry chef, author, and food stylist, plus the official baking consultant for my favorite website, Food52, and I've admired her work for a while (a giant, genius, pull-apart croissant loaf, published last year, what was actually initially got my attention). As the title suggests, her book makes baking -- which, unlike cooking, seems to be more intimidating to the home cook, with all its precision and rules and science -- approachable and clear, carefully explaining each and every recipe and therefore demystifying the art of baking. I've been baking my way through her book these past few months (highlights: an extra vanilla-y pound cake, spot on oatmeal cookies, and an intensely chocolate-y, flourless cocoa cookies) and I can safely say that this is one of those cookbooks where every.single.recipe is solid, trustworthy in a way -- you can choose an E. McDowell recipe for a dinner party, for example, and know that it is going to be a winner, no need to test run it beforehand. Everything in her book, from the photos to the "pro tips" to the explanations of why the recipe works, is pure cookbook-gold. 

Before I go on and tell you all about these Strawberry Cream Biscuits, let me clear up any potential biscuit-confusion: the American biscuit is completely different from the English biscuit, which for us Americans, would be called a cookie. The American biscuit is buttery and flaky, made with buttermilk or cream and a good amount of baking powder. They can be sweet (shortcake!) or savory (served with soups and stews, smothered in gravy for breakfast in the South). Out of all the classic American dishes, biscuits are the trickiest to explain, and when trying to describe them to my many non-American friends here, I usually settle for "the first cousin of the scone" which isn't so far off, as far as comparisons go. That being said, you would be doing yourself a disservice to not bake (and eat) a batch of biscuits yourself to fully understand the beauty of the American biscuit, which is where this recipe comes in.

So! These biscuits naturally, come from the Fearless Baker, and no surprise here, they're spectacular. Erin's recipe produces biscuits that are buttery and lightly sweet and delicately crumbly, with pockets of strawberries -- which have become soft and melty and delightfully jammy in the oven -- sandwiched in between the layers of aforementioned divine biscuit. Each one perfectly encapsulates the flavor of a bowl of sweet strawberries and freshly whipped cream -- a dessert my mom would make for us in the summer growing up -- and a bite of these took me back to June evenings on our porch in Rhode Island, when the weather was warm and balmy, the sun was setting, and there was dessert. These biscuits for me were therefore not only spectacularly delicious but also highly nostalgic, and when it comes to food, I'm not sure it gets much better than that. Grazie mille, Erin, for this recipe.  

A couple of notes from Erin herself: laying the strawberry slices on the dough as described below, and folding it over them, is a great way to incorporate the fruit without overmixing, which would add more liquid (from the juices) to the dough while simultaneously making it tough. Instead of mixing the berries in to the dough, you could also sandwich them inside the individual biscuits: divide the dough in to 12 equal pieces. Pat each piece out to a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, arrange a few strawberry slices over one half of the dough, and fold the other half over itself. Press the edges to seal, transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and proceed with the recipe. The biscuits can be made ahead of time; you can cut them out, put them on the baking sheet, and refrigerate them for up to 12 hours before baking. As is the rule for most biscuits and scones however, they should be eaten asap.

My notes: These would be perfect with a dollop of clotted cream if you have it (unfortunately I can't find it here in Italy) and would be lovely at breakfast or for tea. If you wanted to take this recipe in a different direction, blueberries or raspberries in place of the strawberries would also work well here (or even peaches, I'd guess). Feel free to brush the tops of the biscuits with egg wash instead of cream if you'd like, and if you have turbinado sugar sprinkle that on top (this is actually Erin's suggestion in the recipe as written, I just didn't have any in my kitchen). To see more of Erin's work, click here: www.instagram.com/emcdowell.


Looking for other biscuit or scone recipes? I've got these savory Cacio e Pepe Biscuits, these Double Cheese Biscuits, and these Raspberry Ricotta Scones. Looking for other strawberry recipes? I've got this Salmon with Strawberry Avocado Salsa, these Chocolate Strawberry Shortcakes, this Strawberry Cake with cream cheese frosting, and this Ricotta pound cake with strawberries


STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM BISCUITS
Recipe from Erin McDowell via "The Fearless Baker"

Ingredients:
5 cups (601 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (99 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (24 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
12 tablespoons (170 grams or six ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 cups cold heavy cream (302 grams) heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries (302 grams)

Heavy cream or a beaten egg for brushing
Turbinado or coarse sugar for sprinkling (or normal sugar in a pinch)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) with the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and toss to coat the cubes with flour. Cut the butter into the flour by rubbing it between your forefingers and thumbs until the pieces are between the size of peas and walnut halves.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream and vanilla. Toss the mixture with our fingers to begin to combine, then knead gently to ensure everything is evenly incorporated.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, and press it into a rectangle about 1 inch thick (no need to be precise). Scatter the strawberries evenly over the dough, then fold the dough over onto itself a few times.
Reflour your work surface and press the dough out to about 1 1/4 inches thick. Using a 2 1/2 inch ring or biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits, pressing the cutter straight down (so you will get tall, straight-sided biscuits) rather than twisting it (which can pinch the edges of the dough together and prevent a good rise). Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet, leaving 1 1/2 inches between them. Gently bunch up the scraps and repeat the process. 
Transfer the baking sheet tray to the freezer for 5-7 minutes or to the refrigerator for 15-17 minutes to chill the dough, which helps ensure a higher rise. Brush the edges of the chilled biscuits with the egg wash or heavy cream and sprinkle generously with the sugar.
Bake the biscuits for 22-26 minutes until the biscuits are tall and the tops are very golden. Serve warm. Makes 12 biscuits, but can also be halved to make 6 biscuits if you're feeding a smaller crowd (as I was). 































Spring-y Saturday in Testaccio

In the past week or so Rome has apparently made the decision to skip right over Spring and jump directly in to Summer, and I'm not complaining. The temperatures here have been warm -- still pleasantly, not yet infernally so, that's reserved for August -- and the days have been jacket-free and sunshine-y. My seasonal set of freckles have reappeared, I've prepared my trusty summer dress collection, and I've gotten started with my first gelato of the season (chocolate + pistachio cone). 

I feel a little less inclined to spend so much of my weekends cooking and baking when summer arrives; as much as I love my kitchen, I'd rather not be inside when the weather is so nice. This past weekend I took a much needed break from blogging and spent my time out and about in my marvelous adopted city -- and so today, in exchange for a recipe, I've got a blog post about a Spring-y Saturday in my favorite neighborhood in the city, Testaccio. If you're visiting Rome any time soon, consider all of the below as recommendations during your stay here.


A LITTLE HISTORY...
Ahh, Testaccio! Even though I'll always love the Prati neighborhood of Rome where I live, Testaccio is the zone where I probably spend most of my free time. It's a few minutes walk from where I work, the area where some of my favorite restaurants are located (Flavio a ve l'avevo detto! Nuovo Mondo! Da Bucatino!) and where most of my socializing happens. It's a neighborhood with an incredibly rich history, too. In the times of the ancient Romans, much of the trade done via the Tiber River happened in Testaccio, and the remains of the clay vessels that contained much of the goods being traded -- known as amphorae -- were, back in the day, recycled in a certain sense, broken down and artfully stacked to construct the artificial hill known as Monte Testaccio (after all, it wouldn't have made sense to occupy space on a ship with empty vessels, especially ones that had contained olive oil, for example, and would soon be rancid). Not surprisingly, the hill is therefore a source archaeological evidence as to the every day life of the ancient Romans; below, you can see a photo of the outside of the hill below. Right smack in the middle of a busy intersection, you'll also find the Pyramid of Cestius, or an Egyptian-inspired pyramid was built between 18 and 12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius (see photo above!) Right beside it you'll find Porta San Paolo, or one of the gates constructed within the 3rd century Aurelian Walls; there is a (free) museum housed within the gatehouse that teaches you all about Via Ostiense, the road that left Rome through Porta San Paolo and connected the city to the important sea port of Ostia Antica in ancient times. Ancient Rome aside, Testaccio went on to become one of Rome’s traditional working class neighborhoods, but over time has been revamped, reinvented, and transformed in to a neighborhood with a sort of hipster vibe, and a genuinely cool place to spend your time (in the past few years I've also noticed more and more tourists here -- the secret's out). 

IL MERCATO TESTACCIO
But let's talk about modern day Testaccio! My favorite place in the whole neighborhood -- and most certainly one of my very favorite places in the whole city -- is the Mercato Testaccio, or a market packed with stands selling fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses, and baked goods, not to mention a bar selling coffee and pastries and still others selling food; if you happen to stop by, I highly recommend Mordi e Vai, which sells some of the best sandwiches you'll ever eat (I have mentioned them on this blog before) and Le Mani in Pasta, or a little corner of the market that sells fresh pasta to go (the menu changes daily, but is all always consistently delicious). The market is open from Monday to Saturday from early in the morning until around 2:30 in the afternoon, but as of fairly recently stays open until late at night once or twice a month, as part of a new event called Testaccio Open Day, where all the usual vendors are open, and there's live music and even a dance floor. 



THE NON-CATHOLIC CEMETERY
The non-Catholic cemetery (also known as the Protestant Cemetery or in Italian, the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma) is a very old cemetery (established in 1716) that, as the name suggests, contains the graves of not only Protestants but also many Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims, among other faiths. Now: it may seem strange to include a cemetery in my Spring-y Saturday off, but the non-Catholic cemetery isn't your usual cemetery; it is an incredibly peaceful, beautiful place, full of flowers, trees, and a serene silence that you don't generally find in the capital. It doesn't convey the expected air of sadness, but rather one of tranquility and calm, and its one of my favorite places in the whole neighborhood. The cemetery contains quite a bit of history, too; it is the final resting-place of the poets Shelley and Keats, as well as many painters, sculptors, authors, scholars, and diplomats (while wandering through I also found the grave of a man named Chester Holmes Aldrich, from my home state of Rhode Island -- photo below). If you look closely, you'll also notice narrow window-like spaces built into the walls of the cemetery; these go all the way back to ancient times, before the space was converted into a cemetery, and were used by archers who would protect the city from any potential attackers (photo below). Its built adjacent to the Pyramid of Cestius (see above) and right beside it you'll find a small park with a beautiful view of the pyramid, plus lots of green -- hard to come by in Rome, again -- and cemetery or not, it's a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon. Bonus: the cemetery is also a sanctuary for stray cats, who are very well taken care of by the cemetery administration.

PASTICCERIA BARBERINI
Since I wasn't at home baking this weekend I got my dessert fix from Pasticceria Barberini, a mainstay of the Testaccio neighborhood, where you'll find some of the best pastries in the capital. We opted for a tiny lemon meringue tart, a mini strawberry and cream tart, and my personal favorite, a little tiramisu served in a chocolate cup. Bonus: Barberini also makes a mean cornetto -- Italy's answer to the French croissant, if you're not familiar -- and is a great place to get breakfast in the morning. If you find yourself in the Testaccio neighborhood, do yourself a favor and stop here!

TRAM DEPOT
Ahh, Tram Depot! Tram Depot is a tiny, outdoor bar in the heart of Testaccio; it is closed during the colder months of the year, and therefore its reopening signals the start of the Spring and Summer, sunny weather, and all things nice. It is located near the stops of a few main tram lines (hence its name) and is also adjacent to very green, shade-filled lawn, complete with benches, flowers, and trees (again, another rare patch of green haven in the city). The bar makes a mean Spritz and offers my favorite snack, taralli, as a (free) accompaniment, and at night the bar is decorated with lights that add a festive touch. Bonus: you can also get coffee and breakfast at Tram Depot in the morning, making this the perfect stop on my morning walk to work.

I'll be back soon with some recipes! In the meantime -- have a good start to the week everyone!