Pasta con tonno, pangrattato, e limone

We're already approaching the end of the first month of the new year, which can mean only one thing: it's time for the first round of Cucina Conversations in 2018! Our theme this month is pane raffermo, or stale bread, which, admittedly, doesn't sound so inviting, but wait! -- don't judge a carb by its cover. Bread past its prime is actually a wonderful, versatile ingredient, its staleness making it sturdy enough to both absorb flavors and other ingredients (good luck making bread pudding or french toast with fresh bread) and add structure to dishes (your favorite meatloaf! Thanksgiving stuffing!) Italian cuisine in particular uses stale bread in many recipes, something that stems from its history as a cucina povera, or a "poor cuisine," born when times were tough, ingredients were humble, and nothing could afford to be wasted. Italians rose magnificently to the occasion, creating delicious dishes that used the modest ingredients at hand -- cornmeal (polenta,) beans, stale bread -- to create delicious dishes that are now mainstays of Italian cuisineGoing back to today’s theme, bruschetta, pappa al pomodororibollita, and panzanella are all Italian dishes that use our pane raffermo as their main ingredient.

So! My January contribution is this spaghetti con tonno, pangrattato, e limone, or spaghetti with tuna, lemon, and toasted breadcrumbs made from day-old bread (fun fact: pangrattato means "grated bread"). It's beyond quick to make -- yet another weeknight supper hero -- requires only a few ingredients, and oh, it's pretty darn good too, extra lemon-y (not for the citrus faint of heart) with bright fresh parsley and lots of tuna, and that bread that's seen better days, the bread you meant to eat with dinner and then didn't?! It gets a second life here, steals the show, spiced up with garlic and hot pepper, sautéed in lots of olive oil until rendered crisp and crunchy and fragrant. I devoured the bowl I photographed for lunch, happily -- this is one of those kinds of pastas you eat hot off the stove, twirl-y forkful after twirl-y forkful -- and I predict you'll find yourself doing the same.

For more recipes using pane raffermo, check out what my fellow bloggers have come up with -- 

Flavia of Flavia's Flavors will be preparing polpette di carciofi, or artichoke "meatballs";

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet has shared her recipe for torta paesana, a cake from Lombardy made with chocolate and bread;

Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made polpettone, Italy's version of meatloaf; 

Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles opted for spaghetti mollicati, or spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs.

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi will be making bruschetta con radicchio e speck;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing cipolle ripiene alla piemontese, or stuffed onions from Piedmont.

A couple of notes on this dish: Feel free to use any cut of pasta you'd like here -- I used spaghetti when I took these photos, but found I prefer a shorter cut of pasta so that the breadcrumbs are more evenly dispersed throughout the dish. Feel free as well to add capers, olives, or tomatoes -- whatever you'd like -- or to substitute basil for the parsley, if you're making this a more summer-y dish.


8 ounces or 1/2 a pound (224 grams) pasta of your choice
3 (80 ounce) cans tuna packed in oil, drained
4 tablespoons parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil
2.5 ounces (60 grams, or a few slices) stale bread, crust removed
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 small peperoncino, dried or fresh (I used dried)

Start with your tuna. Place the drained tuna in a medium bowl along with the chopped parsley, the lemon zest, the lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir everything together and set aside to marinate while you prepare your other ingredients.
Cut the crust off your bread. To make the pangrattato, you have two options. You can either process the bread in a food processor (I used my mini KitchenAid food processor for this) or you can either grate your bread on a cheese grater, using the largest size grate, which takes a tiny bit more time, but works just as well. If you’re going to grate the bread, leave the bread in slices, and grate (you’re less likely to accidentally nick your fingers this way) until you have a nice pile of breadcrumbs. If you’re using the food processor, cut the bread in to cubes and process with a few whirs of the processor until they’re reduced to crumbs.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 4 or so tablespoons of olive oil along with the smashed garlic clove and the peperoncino. When the garlic clove is lightly browned and the air smells garlicky, remove both the peperoncino and the garlic clove – you now have a nice infused and slightly spicy olive oil. Add about ½ cup (8 tablespoons) of your pangrattato to the olive oil and stir until the crumbs become nice and toasty and golden brown – this should only take a few minutes, but keep an eye on them and be sure to stir so they don’t burn. You might have some pangrattato leftover -- reserve in a tupperware and keep it in the fridge for a few days for the next time you make pangrattato.
When your pangrattato is done, reserve about 3 tablespoons of it and set aside. To the rest of the breadcrumbs in the pan, add the tuna mixture and toss over low heat until just warmed throughout. Taste and season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the hot spaghetti with the pangrattato/tuna mixture, and serve immediately, garnished with the reserved pangrattato and extra chopped parsley, if you’d like. Serves 2-3 generously. 

One-pan farro with tomatoes

We're a little over halfway through the first month of the new year, and the first 19 days of 2018 have turned out to be pretty good so far. I've enjoyed a relaxing staycation here in the Eternal City, gotten started on some exciting plans for the blog in the new year (stay tuned), made plans to visit Milan next month, started working on developing a few new recipes, and, perhaps most exciting of all have *drumroll* ... discovered thione-pan farro with tomatoes

*Pause for dramatic effect.*

I'm late to the party here; Her Royal Blogging Highness, Deb Perelman, posted this recipe on her blog, Smitten Kitchen, a while back now, and I remember seeing it subsequently posted and re-posted by other bloggers, all with rave reviews (in fact there are 682 glowing comments in the comment section of the post). I don't quite remember why I didn't hop on the bandwagon -- It got lost among my many bookmarked recipes?! I go more for pasta than whole grains?! Everyone was making it and I'm too cool to follow a trend?! -- but I'm so very glad I eventually did. This recipe -- which made it in to Deb's newest cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day -- can be filed under genius recipes. That's right -- just like Marcella Hazan's Tomato, Onion, and Butter Sauce, it's one of those dreamy, magical recipes, one that requires little time, a handful of ingredients, and minimal effort, while still managing to be spectacularly tasty. Unlike any looming New Year resolutions you might be trying to maintain, this marvelous, enchanted one-pan farro asks very little of you. It requires a little quick slicing of just three ingredients, which are then thrown in to a pan with the remaining ones, the whole thing then left to cook for half an hour, after which you'll have a spot on, perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked one-pot dinner, with lots of wholesome, nutty farro, juicy sweet tomatoes, mellow, falling apart onions, and a hint of aromatic garlic, perfect with a little basil and a lot of Parmesan over the top (a drizzle of olive oil doesn't hurt here either). And wait, there's more! Like this Tomato Lentil Soup, today's farro also fits in to any "eat better" resolutions you may have for yourself this year (though I can't promise I'll post too many more recipes like this - both Valentine's Day and Carnevale are right around the corner). I've made this four times since I first tried the recipe -- as we speak, I've just finished polishing off a bowl for dinner -- and though I can't quite predict how this year will play out yet, I do know this is a dish I'll be making all through 2018. I wouldn't be even a little bit surprised if you find yourself doing the same.

A couple of notes: If you've never tried farro, please do! Farro is an ancient grain (enjoyed by the ancient Romans themselves) that is a nutritional power house, high in fiber, iron, and protein, with a nutty, hearty flavor and a chewy texture. There's more than one type of farro; farro can be whole/unpearled, semi-pearled (semi-perlato) and pearled (perlato,) with pearling describing how much of the exterior bran is removed. In this recipe, you should use semi-pearled farro, which ensures the 30 minute cooking time, but pearled or whole farro will work too; you'll just have to adjust the cooking time accordingly (look to the package directions for guidance as well). If the directions say your farro will cook in less than 15 minutes, it’s probably pearled, and if it takes 60 to 80 minutes, it is whole or unpearled. Note that whole farro can also be soaked overnight to cut down on the cooking time. For more farro information, check out this article. Finally, I substituted parsley for the basil here with good results, and have also used a little feta instead of Parmesan, which was equally delicious. The choice is yours.

Looking for other healthy-ish mains to get January started off right? I've got this Salmon with a Mustard Rosemary Glaze, this Fennel, Orange, and Olive Salad, this Insalata Tonno e Fagioli, Avocado Basil Dip, this Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, this Pasta e Ceci, Roasted Asparagus with Gremolata + Burrata, this Tomato and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, this Lemon Roasted Chicken, this Pollo ai peperoni, this Pollo alla cacciatora in bianco, and this Turkey, White Bean, Spinach Soup.


2 cups (470ml) water
1 cup (210 grams) semi-pearled farro
1/2 large onion, sliced in to half moons
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
9 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
A pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
A few basil leaves, cut in to ribbons
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese 

Place the farro and the water in a medium pot and let pre-soak for 10 minutes. While the farro is soaking, slice the garlic thinly, slice the onions into half moons, and halve or quarter the tomatoes. Add the ingredients to the pot as you go.
Add the salt and olive oil to the pot and stir around. Over medium-heat, bring the ingredients in the pot to a boil, and then lower the heat to bring everything down to a simmer. Let the farro simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
When the 30 minutes are up, taste the farro; it should be perfectly cooked ("tender but still with a meaty chew," as Deb describes it) and perfectly seasoned, with no residual water in the pan. If for some reason there is water still in the pan, let the farro cook for another five or so minutes.
Place the farro in a large serving bowl, and drizzle with a little extra olive oil, sprinkle with some basil, and top with freshly grated Parmesan. Eat immediately. Serves 2 very generously, or makes 4 side dish sized portions.  

Roaming around Rome

I've been living the good life lately -- believe it or not, I have been enjoying a one month break from my far-from-dream job, and I couldn't be more pleased. Due to HR rules (I won't bore you with the details) I've had full four weeks of not having to be in an office at 8:30, and of not spending 10+ hours a day doing a job I am less than enthusiastic about (hoping to work this one out in the New Year). This break has been greatly appreciated, very welcome, and much needed, and I have been resting, relaxing, and taking time to enjoy the city -- not always easy when one is working. The (mostly foodie) highlights are below and should be considered recommendations for any of you traveling to Rome soon or living here yourself. Enjoy!

Address: Via Piave 55
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7am-5pm. Saturday: 8am-5pm. Sunday: 9am-5pm.
Recovering from the six hour time difference between Italy and the East Coast is always tough -- no matter how many flights I've taken over the years, I still find myself still awake at 3am and rising at 11am, if I'm lucky. To help get me back on track, I rely on a (persistent) alarm clock and my trusty cappuccino. Shortly after coming back from the U.S I had breakfast at Faro - Luminari del Caffè, which makes some of the best coffee in the capital. Faro uses only coffee beans that have been toasted to perfection (no stray burnt beans allowed,) the highest quality milk, and a coffee machine that is cleaned hourly, instead of the usual daily you find in most bars. The barista at Faro advised against adding sugar to their coffee, as the flavor is so good, it doesn't need any improving upon. She was right. Photo credit goes to my sister Alexandra (for more of her photos and foodie suggestions, check out her Instagram at

Address: Via del Tritone 61
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 9:30am to 11pm
Having time off meant finally being able to visit Rome's newest department store, the famed Rinascente, which was founded all the way back in the 1800s (there are currently a total 11 of them in Italy). The most recent Rinascente in Via Tritone is perhaps the most impressive, boasting eight floors filled with stores selling top brand clothing, make up, accessories, and home decor items, plus a variety of restaurants, and a gorgeous rooftop terrace bar offering a view of the whole city. And that's not all! This Rinascente also houses an ancient Roman aqueduct, discovered when builders were renovating the antique palazzo that was to become the department store (typical Rome!) The aqueduct was part of the Aqueduct Aqua Virgo, which was completed in the year 19 BC, under Emperor Augustus, and was one of the eleven aqueducts that brought water in to the Eternal City. Thanks to my sister Alexandra for the shopping day turned history lesson -- you can read more about Rinascente in her article for Lonely Planet here. In the meantime, have a look at this Dolce & Gabbana toaster as well as this enviable and colorful collection of Le Creuset cookware (sigh!) Photo credit for the third photo goes to my lovely friend Gabriele Dellisanti, in town from Denmark, who also joined us in our trip to Rinascente.

Address: Quadrato della Concordia 3 (Palazzo della Civilita')
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10am-8pm, through March 25, 2018. Located at the Palazzo della Civilita' Italiana (also known as the "square Colosseum" -- photo below says it all) Fendi Studios is an exhibition set up to showcase the relationship between the famed fashion line and the cinema. On display are costumes and accessories designed by Fendi and used in films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Titus, Sex and the City, Catwoman, The Devil Wears Prada, and Blue Jasmine, among many others. The exhibition is also interactive -- get your Polaroid snapped behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, or be projected on to a movie screen, or on front of the Palazza della Civilita' itself. The exhibition even houses a small movie theatre, which shows films featuring Fendi clothing and accessories. The films are shown at 9pm every day (in Italian, with English subtitles) and tickets are free, but must be booked in advance on the Fendi Studio's website. You can get the movie schedule and booking page here.  

During my break I was lucky enough to spend time with Flavia, a fellow blogger (also a member of my monthly Cucina Conversations group!) who was in town for the week with her husband Peter. Like me, Flavia is of Italian descent, but raised in the U.S (Maryland) with relatives still in Italy, mostly in the Veneto region. Flavia and Peter live in Houston, Texas, where she works on her Italian food blog, Flavia's Flavors, and offers Italian cooking classes at Houston's Italian Center. Long story short, we hit it off immediately -- hanging out with Flavia and Peter was like catching up with old friends instead of meeting new ones -- and I had so much fun taking them to some of my favorite foodie spots. We had lunch at Trapizzino, always a favorite; dinner at Flavio a Ve l'avevo detto, in Testaccio, where we arrived at opening and left right as the restaurant was closing; and aperitivo at Cul-de-Sac, not far from Piazza Navona. A big Thank You to them both for bringing me a bag of pecans from Texas (!!!) It was so lovely to meet them and we already have a running list of places to visit the next time they come to Rome. Alla prossima ragazzi!

Address: Via del Casaletto 45 
Hours: Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday. 12:45-3pm, 7:45-11pm. Closed on Wednesdays. 
Any meal at Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto is a treat -- it has some of the best food in Rome, as far as I'm concerned -- and during my break we enjoyed a long, leisurely, and spectacular lunch there, quite a contrast with my usual tight-on-time lunches in the workplace cafeteria. To start, we ordered croquette di melanzane all'arrabbiata, or eggplant croquettes with spicy tomato sauce, and polpette di bollito con pesto, or meatballs made with slow-cooked beef, then fried and served with pesto, which were both delicious, not to be missed if you make a visit there yourself. We also selected three Pecorino-laden pastas -- tonnarelli cacio e pepe, bucatini all'amatriciana, and tonnarelli cozze e pecorino (cozze=mussels) which were divine. To finish, we shared a panna cotta with Nutella (can you ever go wrong with Nutella?!)
Address: Via Cesena 30 
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am to 12am. Closed Sundays. 
Barred is new to the restaurant scene, having opened just barely a year ago, but it has certainly hit the ground running -- it recently received a Puntarelle d'Oro prize from the famed Puntarella Rossa, and was given a spot in the famed Cento guidebook for Italy this year. And with good reason. Run by brothers Mirko and Tiziano Palucci (a sommelier and chef, respectively) Barred offers everything from breakfast items, to tapas, to meat and cheese boards, plus larger plates at dinner, and craft beers and cocktails to wash it all down -- and it is good. We sampled the tapas, which come in three options -- 3, 5, or 7 tapas -- and are chosen not by the diner but by the chef, adding an element of surprise to the meal. We went with the "3" option and were served shrimp over a broccoletti puree with ginger and red onion; gnocchetti, or little gnocchi with leeks, orange, and Isot Biber; and veal tongue with shallots and green apples. It was all incredible -- inventive, thoughtful, creative, and so darn delicious -- and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking to shake up the usual pasta/pizza routine.

More free time=more baking, of course. Having the whole day to do as I pleased meant time to try out recipes on my "To Make List," including a classic sweet from Mantova, Torta delle Rose -- poor thing has been on my list for months -- as well as Oatmeal Cookies and Flourless Cocoa Cookies from The Fearless Baker. Here's a sneak preview of the latest desserts to come out of my kitchen, plus a shot or two of nice, relaxing strolls around Rome. I'll be back later in the week with a new recipe, and wish me luck -- by the time this post is live on its scheduled time of Monday, January 15, I'll be back in the office, sorting through a month's worth of unread emails *sob*. Here's hoping your week is a little better than mine will be...!