Chocolate Orange and Olive Oil Cake

I made a resolution this year to get out of my culinary comfort zone, with plans to start making more of my own cheese and fresh pasta (my new pasta machine arrived just yesterday!) not to mention take a stab at things like strudel with intimidatingly thin pastry, fussy babka, unfamiliar and un-Italian soup dumplings, and a whole roast turkey, too, because meat has always been my Achilles heel (can the meat thermometer be trusted?! what is actually the thickest part of the bird?! are the juices running clear?! will the turkey be too raw or too dry or just right?!) My doubts are many (at least for now).

Having said this: while I am eager to carry out the above-mentioned plans --  and I think I'd be letting us all down if I didn't work my way through the list 'RAVIOLI FILLING IDEAS' I composed during the work day, shh -- the fact remains that sometimes, grand aspirations aside, it is often nice to turn to what is familiar, what is easy, and therefore what is most comforting. My years in Italy -- where desserts tend to be on the simpler side -- have taught me the beauty of a simple cake, or ciambellone, cioe' cakes with no airs about them or loftiness in sight, which are unadorned and understated, good as dessert or with tea or at breakfast or as a snack or just because. This is my favorite thing to bake -- just check the blog index -- and that I couldn't staaway from even if I tried, recipe resolutions or not. cake like this Chocolate Orange and Olive Oil cake -- my own spin on Rachel Roddy's splendid Lemon Ricotta and Olive Oil Cake -- fits the bill nicely. 

So! This is cake is simple in appearance, yes -- no frosting or frills or filling (yay alliteration) -- but the flavor is anything but. It's soft and fluffy thanks to the teamwork of ricotta and olive oil, and it's very chocolate-y but in just the right measure, so as not to overwhelm the citrus, which -- in all its fragrant orange splendor! -- compliments said chocolate in the most lovely of ways. It's a real treat, and best of all, comes together in no time at all (after all, my favorite cakes do not require beaters, or softening of butter, or mutiple layers) which is just what we want when cake is involved, right? Stay tuned for a post on fresh pasta and roasts, yes, but in the meantime, I think you too will appreciate the respite and reassurance of a piece of chocolate cake, especially one like this. 

A couple of notes: This one is pretty simple; feel free to stir in some mini chocolate chips if you want to really up this chocolate factor here. I have been meaning to try this substituting plain whole-milk yogurt for the ricotta (purely out of curiosity) so will try that next -- stay tuned!

For more ciambelloni: this Lemon Ricotta Cake, this White Chocolate Blueberry Cake, and this Brownie Ciambellone, and this Apple CakeLooking for other simple cake recipes? I've got this Chocolate Loaf Cake, this Ricotta Pound cake, this Mimosa (orange and Prosecco) cake, this Triple Orange Pound cake, and this Lemon poppyseed loaf.

CHOCOLATE, ORANGE, AND OLIVE OIL CAKE
Recipe adapted from Rachel Roddy.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour (260 grams) 
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar (200 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup ricotta (205 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (224 grams)
4 large eggs
Zest of 3 oranges

Powdered sugar, for serving

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F (170 degrees Celsius). Butter a 9-inch diameter bundt pan, tube pan, or loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta and olive oil until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until they are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour the ricotta mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until the ingredients are combined and the batter is thick and smooth. Fold in the orange zest using a wooden spoon. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar and serve.







Cooking with Carla

I've mentioned Latteria Studio and Carla Tomasi on this blog before -- here and here as well -- but it's about time they got a post all to themselves, especially given that Carla is the best cook I know, and Latteria Studio has decidedly become what one could define my ''happy place,'' or rather a place where I feel relaxed, at ease, and perfectly content. 

If you're not familiar, Latteria Studio -- opened in 2015 by Alice Adams, and located in the Trastevere neighborhood -- is a space that serves many purposes (photography studio! kitchen space for rent! event venue!) but best of all, is also home to cooking classes of all kinds (!!!) There are monthly Market to Table classes, where participants shop at the Mercato Testaccio, then head to Latteria to cook with their ingredients; there are Skills classes, which focus on a specific theme, like bread or preserves or desserts; there are classes with visiting cooks, who teach you to make unfamiliar things like dumplings and spring rolls; there are classes that can be tailored to the participants interests, with a more personalized menu.
Carla Tomasi -- a self-described "cookery teacher/pickler/jammer/baker/preserver/busy body" is also a walking encyclopedia (seriously: ask her any question you have about food, and she will have the detailed answer) not to mention a superb cook, an equally superb instructor, and one of my very favorite people. Carla left Rome when she was only 18 to live in London, where she had many jobs in the food industry (including her own restaurant in Soho) before eventually returning to Rome some 20 years later to teach, bestowing her wealth of knowledge (culinary and otherwise -- she's one wise lady) upon her fortunate students. This wealth of knowledge plus an excellent approach to food -- cooking seasonally, with a heavy emphasis on vegetables, and the curiosity to explore cuisines beyond just Roman -- translates in to stellar cooking classes.

So! Simply put, a class with Carla is, well, special, from start to finish. Freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked cinnamon rolls greet you upon arrival; the atmosphere in the Studio manages to be both relaxed and lively and fun all at the same time; there's a sense of team work and good will as you work with your fellow participants, united in the same goal: a good meal. No matter what sort of class you've done, it ends with an overall sense of accomplishment and, well, betterment, because  you've really learned something -- whether it be how to make a really good piadina, the correct rice to use for seafood risotto, the easiest way to peel usually tricky squash -- and you leave the studio happy, satisfied, and convinced that there is no better way to spend a morning. Classes at Latteria are a cut above all others I have taken here in Rome, and a class there -- whether you live in Rome like me or if you are here on vacation -- is worth your while, a hundred times over.

So! I took a class with Carla just last week, one that was particularly special, as it was organized for a group of some of my closest friends in Rome. The friends in question -- an international group, from England, Scotland, Ecuador, India, and the U.S -- had been wanting to take class with Carla for quite a while and with a little patience (arranging a class around the different schedules 6+ people is no easy task) we found a day, time, and menu that worked for everyone:

-Cinnamon rolls/coffee (breakfast upon arrival)
-Mozzarella and parmesan fritters with chili tomato dipping sauce
-Foccaci(three kinds)
-Carciofi alla romana
-Broccolo romanesco (agrodolce)
-Ravioli, two ways
-Chocolate fudge souffle cake

With no further ado, here are some photos and a little bit about our class with Carla last Saturday!


FOCACCIA + FRITTERS
We dove right in to our lesson with focaccia, where Carla advised on on the best kind of flour to use (half strong bread flour, half soft wheat flour, and nothing too cheap!) the correct ratio of flour to water (for every 100 grams of flour you should add about 65 grams of water) and what to top them with (fresh herbs always go on after the focaccia is out of the oven, so not to turn them bitter in the oven) among many other things. We went on to make pear and gorgonzola focaccia (extra gorgonzola, because the more cheese the better) a red onion and olive tapenade focaccia, and a simple rosemary focaccia, which disappeared faster than I could photograph it. All three were fluffy and golden brown and downright heavenly -- in that way that only bread fresh from the oven can be --  and as if that weren't enough we also made savory fritters with both mozzarella and parmesan (did I mention we like cheese?!) served with a spicy sweet tomato chili jam. All of our snacks paireperfectly with a cold glass of Prosecco, and needless to say, we were off to a very good start.





A LITTLE SOMETHING GREEN
Having had our fill of carbs, we turned to something a little fresher and greener, or rather, artichokes done the Roman way -- braised and steamed with parsley and garlic -- and broccolo romanesco, a vegetable that is sort of a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, light green and almost flower-like in appearance, cooked with capers, saffron, onions, and pine nuts. Carla patiently walked us through the artichoke prep process -- explaining that we needed to remove quite a bit of the exterior leaves (necessary given the climate and environments artichokes grow in, but not for eating!) plus the spiky ends and tough outer stem. Any extra long stems were cut, peeled, and added to the mix as well ("the best part," Carla declared) and all was left to bubble and steam away merrily on the stove. The broccolo prep was a bit more straightforward -- just cut the florets from the stem -- and the mix of ingredients was something new, a little different, super delicious with a hint of saffron, and most certainly not your mother's broccoli. "Eat your vegetables" was never so easy.



FRESH PASTA!!!
While there was definitely a bit of back and forth and brainstorming when it came to deciding the menu, all six of us were unanimous when it came to the main: fresh pasta was a must. After all, pasta from scratch is quintessentially Italian and universally loved, but still a skill that requires some guidance, not exactly a recipe you're likely to get right on your first try. Carla, lucky for us, is a master of fresh pasta (you can actually see her preparing cannelloni here) and guided us through the process, with advice along the way (flour is important, and Farina Mulino Spadoni 00 is the best; fresh eggs are a must; a good, sturdy machine is important, and Atlas and Imperia are the best brands, etc etc). With a little team work and patience we had made fresh egg pasta dough and fresh chestnut flour pasta dough, plus two fillings: potato, parmesan, and taleggio and pumpkin, sage, and philadelphia (a good substitute for the usual ricotta when you have a friend who has a ricotta allergy)!


"RAVIOLI COME GLI UOMINI IN PIAZZA" 
Once we'd gone through the ravioli making process with Carla, it was our turn to try making them on our own (gulp). I'm happy to report we did very well for ourselves; here's my friend Sarah preparing the pasta just as Carla demonstrated, rolling out and then folding the dough four times at "0" (to smooth it out and make it thinner!) before rolling it out one number at a time to make it nice and fine (a tricky task, which Sarah managed beautifully!) Once our pasta dough was rolled out, we distributed the various fillings (three scoops if you want your filling generous, four if you want a more moderate amount, said Carla) folded over the pasta, patted it down to avoid any air bubbles, and then -- as Carla had shown us -- cut the pasta into squares with ("very decisive!") strokes. Our finished ravioli were numerous, but less than uniform -- to be expected when said ravioli is made by various people -- which, a friend later told me, made them "ravioli come gli uomini in piazza," or rather ravioli that are all different, like men in a piazza (ha!) Below our collection of diverse but still handsome homemade ravioli, and the finished product, served with brown butter and flaked almonds, yum.


LEAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT...
Carla is a very accomplished baker, and while I'd have been more than happy to leave dessert to her, she asked if I would like to teach this part of the lesson (!!!) which was both exciting and nerve wracking. I'd never taught any part of a cooking class, but I do know how to bake, and I think it is important to do things outside of your comfort zone every once in a while. After a little discussion with my friends (castagnole for carnevale? very British sticky toffee pudding? a very lemon-y tart?) we settled on a very rich and chocolate-y fallen chocolate souffle cake, which has been in my repertoire for a while (recipe and post here). I was surprisingly nervous, once we got started -- my hands even trembled slightly when measuring out the vanilla, no joke -- but all in all my bit on dessert went well, with me managing to explain how to separate an egg, the different phases of a beaten egg white, and the correct temperature of the melted chocolate, nerves and all. The cake was delicious (phew!) our lesson was a success, lunch was spectacular, and as you can see below, we were quite a happy bunch indeed. A huge thank you to Queen Carla -- we'll be back for another lesson soon!





























Polpettone alla ricotta

It's been just a little over a month since my nonno passed away, and unsurprisingly, it hasn't been easy. We're all still grief-stricken and heartbroken and trying to figure out what life without him -- the family patriarch, constant and steady and wise and loving -- is going to look like. We're wobbly and unsure as we take our first steps in life without him here, and we're all trying our best to adjust to this new reality. 

My grandfather -- great entrepreneur that he was! -- launched a recipe contest in the 1960s to promote the mozzarella and ricotta that his business produced. He asked all of New England to send in there best recipes made with Supreme Dairy products, and he, the company founder, would not only choose a winning recipe, he would also compile the best recipes and put them in to a Supreme Dairy cookbook. The resulting book was given to me by my nonno five or six years ago, and now resides here with me in Rome (you may remember it from this post here, actually). It is a compilation of very Italian recipes (cappelletti, cannoli) and very Italo-American recipes (veal parmesan) and some very, very '60s era recipes (frozen cheese and pineapple salad, anyone?!). The winning recipe, in all this, was a humble but tasty meatloaf with ricotta.

It turns out the award winning meatloaf plays a role in one of my father's many memories of my nonno, wherein his 12 year old self was greatly opposed to my grandfather's choice -- really, meatloaf?! -- and remembers the conversation was put to rest with  decisive and unintentionally comical "THE MEATLOAF WINS! MEATLOAF IS THE FINAL DECISION!" from my grandfather. My dad called recently and asked if I could check my cookbook for the recipe, whenever I had a moment, which proved difficult given the state of my (half un-packed) apartment, a jungle of suitcases and odds and ends and boxes of many unpacked books heaped all together. I looked for my grandfather's book everywhere, but with no luck. "I can't find the book," I wrote to my dad. "Give me a second."

Long story short: I went in to my room, said out loud to my grandfather "I'm going to need that book of yours, okay?" (because I've found that talking to him sometimes is comforting, and Igues just part of the grieving process) and though I am generally not the kind of person to believe in this stuff, returned to my stack of many books a few minutes later, chose one book at random, and lo and behold, my little Supreme Dairy Cookbook fell right out. I burst in to tears, cried for a while, but also felt incredibly comforted, because -- and call me crazy if you want -- for a second there I felt that my nonno had heard me and was right there with me. It felt like someone had given me a big hug or a warm blanket or just a sign it was all going to be okay, really, and it was beyond reassuring. 

Naturally then, I had to make the winning meatloaf.

My dad was right -- meatloaf isn't always the most exciting dish -- but my grandfather was also right, because this is not just any meatloaf. It's ultra flavorful (Parmesan! onion! parsley!) and juicy and tender and best of all, its filled with ricotta, more in line with the Italian polpettone than the typical American meatloaf. It was delicious with broccoli saltati and roasted potatoes but serve it with whatever you wish for the coziest dinner you've had for a while. I'm with my nonno on this one (sorry, dad!) Meatloaf (or polpettone) wins!

A couple of notes: I used sheep's milk ricotta from my local cheese shop that was delicious but any kind of ricotta will do here, even ricotta from your local supermarket (like Supreme Dairy ricotta!) I found this to be an excellent recipe, but it was a little vague, as you can see; I found that in a 9x4x2 inch loaf pan you could make one meatloaf plus another smaller one; the cooking time was more than 25 minutes, more like 45; the quantity of the ricotta could probably be cut down on. Still here I've made the recipe as written in the cookbook, and I leave it up to you to make any little adjustments you see fit. 

Looking for other recipes with ricotta? I've got this ricotta pound cake, these ricotta and raspberry scones, this homemade ricotta, this lemon and ricotta cake, this crostata di ricotta, these polpette di ricotta, this torta di ricotta, and these castagnole di ricotta. Also, I've got this recipe for a more classic polpettone on here, too.

POLPETTONE ALLA RICOTTA
Serves 4. Recipe from the Supreme Dairy Cookbook.

Ingredients:
1 pound (500 grams) ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup breadcrumbs, plus a little extra
1/2 cup (50 grams) grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped 
3 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Pepper
1/2 cup (120 mL) water
3/4 pound (300 grams) ricotta

Directions:
In a large bowl, mix together the beef, onion, breadcrumbs, 2 of the eggs, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the water, salt, pepper and the cheese. In another bowl mix together the remaining egg, parsley, the ricotta. Grease a large loaf pan with some olive oil and then sprinkle with breadcrumbs to coat, tilting the pan as you go to coat. Place half the meat mixture in the loaf pan, cover with some of the ricotta mixture -- you won't use it all -- and cover with the remaining meat mixture. Bake the polpettone for 45-55 minutes until browned on top and cooked throughout (the internal temperature should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit). Let cool slightly then serve. 




Tagliatelle gorgonzola e noci

My sister-in-law, Lakshmi -- problem the most in gamba (in English: overall cool) person I know -- is, among many things, an excellent cook. Though she only really started to cook when she moved to the U.S back in 2013 -- both because she was a student and because cooking for herself was the easiest way to access good Indian food -- but she is so very brava that I find it hard to believe she hasn't been cooking for much longer than that. She has introduced us -- her very lucky family -- to dishes like chicken biryani and pappadums, lemon rice and coconut rice, and everything from shrimp to egg to goat curry. She's taught us that naan bread is redundant (naan already means bread) and the same goes for chai tea (idem) and that, on a non-food related note, the Himalayas are pronounced not him-uh-LAY-uhs but actually him-AHL-yuhs (who knew?!) 

Having said this: in the same way that I find Indian cuisine intimidating (what with its many spices, marinades, and unfamiliar ingredients) my sister-in-law used to find Italian cuisine (what with its characteristic cheese, pasta, and many pork products, from prosciutto to guanciale to pancetta) equally intimidating. This surprised me at first -- after all, Italian cooking is known for its simplicity and straightforwardness -- but it's all a matter of what you're used to, what you've grown up with, isn't it? At the beginning, when she was first expanding her culinary horizons to Italian food, I fielded many a question from her, their arrival announced by the ping! of my cell phone; was it normal that the sauce the meatballs were cooking in was bubbling so very furiously? was she cooking them the right way?! If one was used to cooking with things like curry leaves, fresh ginger, and turmeric, how did western herbs like basil, rosemary, and oregano compare? Why did a recipe for pesto call for just 1 clove of garlic -- was that a mistake? After all, an Indian recipe would call for at least 5 or 6! 

It would seem that my sister-in-law truly does have a knack for cooking, as she has quickly familiarized herself with and subsequently conquered Italian cuisine just as she once conquered Indian cuisine, learning to, in her own words: season with a lighter hand, discern the differences between Italy's many cheeses, observe how my mother and I cook, and not be afraid to ask questions. She now makes not only dishes from her own country but also from the one of the family she married in to, mastering dishes like roast lamb with red wine and and a fit-for-Christmas Eve sugo di pesce, adding classic dishes like pasta con le sarde, pasta e ceci and crostata di ricotta to her repertoire, and regularly consulting the cookbooks of Marcella Hazan. All of this has left me positively bursting with pride, and also more aware of the fact that I should really make more of an effort to learn about Indian cuisine, to fully close the culinary circle (late addition to my list of 2019 resolutions!)

So! What does all this have to do with today's dish, tagliatelle gorgonzola e noci? Not so long ago Lakshmi was telling us about her newest adventures in Italian cooking, and while I don't quite remember the details, I do remember that at one point in a conversation about our favorite cheeses, my sister-in-law mentioned my brother's preferred formaggio, or rather, gor-GAHN-zola, which rolled off her tongue in a very knowledgeable, matter-of-fact sort of way. The correct pronunciation of this cheese is, of course, gor-gon-ZO-la, and the whole thing was so endearing and so very amusing that I can't help but think of my sister-in-law every time I spot this cheese at the shop -- and now every time I prepare this recipe. So! This dish is one of those wonderful rarities that manages to be special and fancy and quick and easy at the same time, and really: does it get any better than pasta tossed in a super luxurious cheese sauce with a hint of warming sage and toasty garlic and crunchy, buttery walnuts to boot?! I didn't think so. Gor-GAHN-zola for the win. 

A couple of notes: You can use any long flat pasta you want here -- fettuccine or pappardelle would also be nice. I remember when I was little my mom had a similar dish in her repertoire, where she used penne, which were also delicious. Next time I make this I might up the quantity of sauce and bake it in the oven with a shorter pasta...stay tuned/let me know if you get around to trying this before me!

Looking for other super simple pasta recipes? I've got this spaghetti with quick cherry tomato sauce, this cacio e pepe, this rigatoni with eggplant, these three pestos (almond, basil, pistachio), this pici with sausage ragu', this penne alla vodka, and this fettuccine with brie, tomatoes, and basil

TAGLIATELLE GORGONZOLA E NOCI
Recipe from Rachel Roddy via The Guardian
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 pound (500 grams) dried tagliatelle
2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 
6-8 sage leaves
75 grams (2.5 ounces) gorgonzola dolce
1/2 cup (100ml) heavy cream
A big handful of chopped walnuts

Directions:
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook as per packet instructions. Have all the ingredients for the sauce ready to go.
While the pasta cooks, take a small pan and, over a medium-low flame, melt the butter, and add the sliced garlic and sage leaves, leaving it all to bubble for a minute.
Add the cubed gorgonzola, cream and a few grinds of black pepper, then stir until the cheese has melted. Continue cooking for another minute. Taste and add salt, if needed. 
When ready – tender but with a slight bite – drain the pasta (saving a little of its cooking water) and tip it into a warm bowl. Pour over the cheese sauce, add half the walnuts and toss quickly, adding a little pasta cooking water if it seems at all stiff. Divide between bowls, sprinkle over the remaining walnuts, and immediately serve.




Homemade Mascarpone

We're more than halfway through February now and I'm taking stock of my New Year resolutions, partly to keep my mind on other things, and partly because there is nothing I relish more than consulting a well-made list (it's just who I am, okay?!). Said list looks more or less something like this:

-Find a new apartment!!!
-Pick up ballet again? 
-Read more, watch TV less 
-Redesign blog -- new colors, look, name??! 
-Cheese-making! Ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella...burrata?! ricotta salata? etc etc 

While I'd love to take you through how I plan to achieve all my goals this year (that third one will be tricky, what with the last season of Game of Thrones on its way) I'll spare you and have us just skip to #5, the one about cheese, because formaggio is always the most interesting person in the room, isn't he? As you may recall, my grandfather was a cheese-maker, making and selling countless quantities of cheese -- mainly ricotta and mozzarella -- in the 57 years in which he ran his own business and not so long ago it dawned on me that I, too should give the art of cheese-making a shot. I'm not quite sure why I didn't think of this before -- after all, I love cheese, I love to cook, and I love my nonno, my nonno loved cheese -- but now that the idea is in my head, I'm pleased, inspired, intrigued. Meglio tardi che mai, or better late than never, right?

A little research has confirmed what I already more or less knew -- that the making of most cheeses is a tricky thing, the process requiring things like aging over long periods of time at specific temperatures in specific environments (!!!) Needless to say I'm not quite at this level, not yet anyways, therefore I've been starting small, with my cheese-making training wheels on, so to speak. First up was this first with this ricotta -- unbelievably simple -- and now this mascarpone, which is a tad more complicated, but still sits squarely in the "beginner" category of cheeses. First things first: mascarpone, if you're not familiar, is one of the most luxurious of all cheeses (in the same family tree as burrata, I'd think) with a mild, almost sweet flavor and a decidedly rich texture (this tends to happen when you're a cheese made with purely heavy cream). It is known mainly for its role as the cream layered between the coffee-dipped savoiardi of a tiramisu, but is also quite versatile, delicious paired with fruit, drizzled with honey, sprinkled with chocolate, dolloped onto desserts, served on toasted bread with jam, used in crepes, or spread on crostini. It is sublime when in ice cream, in cheesecake, in tarts, or in frosting, too. 

So! The verdict for this mascarpone, made completely from scratch in my very own kitchen?! It was was everything I'd hoped for and more, silky and rich and creamy all at once with a mild, vaguely lemony flavor, as content dolloped on top of a bowl of berries with honey (pictured here) as it was on toasted bread with raspberry jam. The recipe was undeniably straightforward and completely doable, but still complicated enough to make me feel accomplished, once it was all said and done (maintaining the same temperature for 3 minutes requires some attention and care!) My grandmother teared up when I told her about what I'd made during one of our ever more frequent calls on Skype -- but in her tears I detected more pride than sadness, followed by a promise that I'd make her some mascarpone as soon I was home next, maybe baked in to a pie, or cheesecake, or in a tiramisu, or perhaps just served simply with strawberries and honey, as my nonno would have liked

A couple of notes: You will definitely need a kitchen thermometer for this recipe; they don't cost very much (just a few dollars/euros in my experience) and once you have one, you can make not only mascarpone but also ricotta and sweets like fudge, toffee, marshmallows, etc! In short: if you like to cook, it's a good investment. That's about it!

Looking for other recipes for things that you would normally buy in a store, but can actually totally make at home? Knew it! I've also got: this ricotta, these gnocchi, these taralli, this ice cream, these bagels, this focaccia, these Pop-Tarts, this hot chocolate, this hummus, these popsicles, this challah bread, this hot fudge sauce, these granola bars, these soft pretzels, these castagnole di ricotta, this butterscotch sauce, this crema di caffe', these pumpkin doughnuts, and this pizza bianca.

HOMEMADE MASCARPONE 
Recipe from Food52 -- makes 2 cups. 

Ingredients: 
2 cups (480 mL) heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice 

Directions:
In a saucepan, slowly bring the heavy cream to a low simmer (the temperature should reach 180° F or 80° C and the goal is to try to keep it around there). Let simmer at 180° F for about 3 minutes then add in the lemon juice. Simmer for another 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Fill a small strainer with several layers of cheesecloth (I use three) and put a small bowl under the strainer. Pour the cooled mascarpone mixture into the cheesecloth and stick the entire bowl in the fridge overnight (mine only strained a few tablespoons of whey, but the mascarpone came out thick and creamy in the morning). 



Lentils with sausages + mustard vinaigrette


Without going too much in to detail -- not sure I have the energy or the strength for that -- the events of the past two or so weeks have turned what has been a fairly unassuming start to the year into a decidedly painful one. While I'm trying my best to hold on to any and all positive thoughts in the midst of the gaping hole my nonno's passing has left -- the remarkable legacy he left behind and all he achieved in his nearly a century (!!!) of life, how the deep sadness my family is experiencing is simply a testimony to how much he was loved -- I am struggling. As always, I've turned to cooking and baking as a way to keep me distracted and occupied, comforted, at least fleetingly. If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times -- I haven't yet come across a situation that a little time in the kitchen can't remedy, and lately cooking has once again come to my rescue, a brief antidote to grief. For that I am grateful. 

Today's recipe for lentils and sausages is comfort food in its purest form, nourishing and sustaining in exactly the way a person requires when riding out the waves of a loss. It is a familiar, humble dish -- lentils, onions, carrots, a little celery -- and yet exactly the kind of thing I that has kept me going in these past few days. As I write this, it comes to mind that it is just the sort of dish my nonno would have approved of -- filling, wholesome, welcome to a grating or two of Parmesan, his favorite cheese -- any of the countless times he inquired via Skype what was for "supper" (always supper, never dinner). 

I'll be back soon with some new recipes, hopefully a few more for homemade cheese (graduating from this recent ricotta to mascarpone, then hopefully to mozzarella?) in honor of my nonno, the cheese-maker in the family. In the meantime, do me a favor and give your grandparents a phone call of even better, a hug, and make this dish for them, if you can, and tell them how much you love them. 

A couple of notes: You can make this vegetarian and serve these lentils with burrata over the top instead of sausages, a nifty idea I got from Deb Perelman. Any green or brown lentils will do here.

LENTILS WITH SAUSAGES + MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE
Serves 4.

Ingredients:
2 cups French green lentils (13 oz), picked over and rinsed
6 cups (1500mL) water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon (a generous pinch) dried thyme
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Black pepper
A handful of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 sausages, cooked (I used prosciutto sausages)
Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
Directions:
Bring lentils and water to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, then simmer lentils, covered, until tender but not falling apart, 3 to 5 minutes.

While lentils simmer, sauté over medium heat the onion, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just softened (this will take 8 or so minutes). 

Make your vinaigrette -- whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few more grinds of black pepper in a bowl. Add remaining 1/2 cup oil in a slow stream, whisking until blended well.

Drain lentils in a colander and add to the vegetable mixture in the skillet. Remove the garlic cloves and discard. Add the vinaigrette to the lentils and vegetables. Cook over low heat, stirring, until heated through. Stir in the parsley. Serve the lentils on a platter topped with the sliced sausage and a flurry of Parmesan, or burrata if you prefer. Dig in.




New Year, New Favorite Places

So far this year I've given you a recipe for unbelievably good ricotta, my newest pasta obsession, and a brownie parading as a cake  -- you're very, very welcome --  so now that you have a few things to cook as you get acquainted with 2019, I'm here to give you a few places to try, too. In theme with the new year -- which is just nearly a month old, aww! -- I wanted to share some of my new favorite places in Rome, ones that have opened not so long ago and that have quickly become some of my Top Favorite haunts in the Eternal City. As always: whether you're vacationing in Rome for a bit or living here like me, keep 2019 going in the right direction and pay a visit to all of the below, okay?

ALTROVE RISTORANTE
Address: Via Girolamo Benzoni 34 (Garbatella neighborhood)
Hours: Tuesday 8am-8pm; Wednesday-Friday 8am-midnight; Saturday 9am-midnight; Sunday 9am-4pm. 
If you're looking to shake things up in a city of spaghetti alla carbonara e cacio e pepe, Altrove -- meaning elsewhere, in Italian -- is just the place. A little background: Altrove's staff comes from Matemù, a center where immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized young people can not only participate in  language classes and recreational activities, but also take courses that gear them towards a professional career; in this case, a career in the restaurant sector. Altrove therefore has an extremely multicultural (and incredibly talented) staff, with chefs and pastry chefs from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Its menu reflects this diversity; here you'll find dishes inspired by all sorts of different cuisines, making for an interesting, unexpected menu, hard to come by in Italy. Pictured below: an amuse bouche of fried shrimp, fennel, and spicy sauce; a spin on Sicilian caponata, where the caponata is shaped in to a cylinder and fried in oatmeal flour, served with an almond sauce; tuna with a bell pepper sauce; kofta, or lamb meatballs with a pistachio and feta sauce, roasted beets, carrots, and onions; and finally, roasted quail with cranberries and escarole. The desserts were similarly fantastic, and actually quite American, the highlight being the Twix, "revisted," a shortbread base covered in salted caramel and chocolate. Need I say more?! Bonus: I've only been for dinner, but Altrove also is bakery and cafe' during the day, and is open at lunch, too, where they offer a buffet. 


MARIGOLD ROMA 
Address: Via Giovanni da Empoli 37 (zona Ostiense)
Hours: Open Tuesday-Thursday from 8:30-5pm; Friday from 8:30-11pm; Saturdays from 9:00-11pm; Sundays from 9:00-5pm. 
Ahh, Marigold! Where to begin?! I have so many things to say about this restaurant/micro-bakery that I could easily go on for a whole blog post, but I'll try and fit it all in here. First things first: Marigold is brand new (opened only in December 2018) and owned and run by Sofie (Danish) and Domenico (Italian) a couple who, up until recently, put their immense talent to use holding pop-up dinners in their home and selling baked goods out of their own kitchen. Lucky for all of us, they've expanded into a professional space in the form of Marigold, serving breakfast, brunch (weekends), lunch, and dinner (Fridays and Saturdays). Marigold's food is unique, creative, interesting in a sea of classic cucina romana, offering dishes like slow cooked pork belly with fennel and apple; tortelli with ricotta, lemon, and kale pesto; chickpea and cannellini bean soup with za'taar and yogurt; and pan-fried quail with roasted pumpkin, sage, and broccoletti to name just a few of a spectacular many. Lunch and dinner aside, there's also BRUNCH, you guys, which is probably the most exciting part for me. Yup -- finally, finally, there's a real brunch place in Rome, and an exceptional one at that, one that serves up buttermilk pancakes and waffles with syrup, omelettes and toast, homemade sourdough bread with homemade butter, and even eggs benedict (!!!) The best thing you can order at Marigold, though, at least in my humble opinion?! Sofie's homemade cinnamon twists, fragrant with cinnamon and lots cardamom, soft but still a bit crisp from the caramelized sugar that seeps out while baking, a dream when eaten fresh out of the oven. Bonus: It's not just Marigold's food that's wonderful -- everything at Marigold is spot-on, terrific, from the effortlessly chic less-is-more décor to the best-of-the-best ingredients to the incredibly lovely staff. If I could go there every day, I would; I think you'll feel the same way too.







SEU PIZZA ILLUMINATI
Address: Via Angelo Bargoni 10-18, Trastevere neighborhood
Hours: Closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Open all other days 7pm-midnight.
Within seconds of entering Seu, it becomes clear that this is not just any pizzeria -- this is a pizzeria where people take pizza very, very seriously. Their motto -- inscribed in impossible-to-miss neon pink writing on the wall -- is "In Pizza We Trust," and I think that about sums it up. Seu is run by Pier Daniele Seu, pizzaiolo illuminato, or rather an enlightened pizza maker, which may seem like a weighty claim, until you try the pizza, at which point it all makes sense. First things first: Seu's menu is divided into 3 sections, starting with "Le Classiche" (with classic pizzas like la margherita and la marinara, for example) "Old School" (spicy diavola pizza, decadent 4 formaggi,) and "Seu"(creative pizzas like "La Indiviata" with endive, mortadella, ricotta, pistacchio, and nutmeg). Under the toppings there is the crust, one that is neither traditionally Roman (thin, crisp, borderline crunchy crust) nor traditionally Neapolitan (thick, fluffy crust). Instead, it's sort of via di mezzo, or a compromise, one that is medium in its thickness, incredibly soft ad slightly chewy, and it's divine. All pizzas, in my opinion, should be preluded with a good set of fritti. like the suppli' pictured below, an assortment of bruschette, if you prefer. Bonus: If you find yourself around Mercato Centrale at the Termini station -- another places that deserves a mention in a blog post somewhere, as its one of my very favorites -- Seu has another pizzeria there, too. 


TRATTORIA PENNESTRI
Address: Via Giovanni da Empoli 5 (Ostiense neighborhood)
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 7pm-11pm. Open for lunch Friday-Saturday, noon-3pm. 
On my 30th birthday I took my sister's sage advice and made a reservation for our celebratory dinner at Trattoria Pennestri -- and gastronomically speaking, my third decade of life couldn't have gotten off a better start. Simply put, the food at Trattoria Pennestri is just so, so good, Italian cuisine, yes, but a sort of elevated Italian cuisine. There's gnocchi, taken to the next level wtih the addition of shrimp and stracciatella; familiar pasta e fagioli, finished off with smoked peperoncino; classic Roman coratella, prepared with lemon zest and topped with ricotta salata; and duck breast with apples and juniper, to name just a few. Pictured below: an amuse bouche of of sheep's milk ricotta drizzled with olive oil; pumpkin hummus with primo sale cheese and yogurt; pici pasta with broccoli rabe and crunchy crispy pangrattato; the aforementioned cozy, warming pasta e fagioli. Had we had room for dessert (next time for sure!) we would've opted for a multi-chocolate mousse, which is one of the restaurants signature ends to the meal. Bonus: You couldn't ask for a nicer staff or a cozier ambience -- all around lovely experience. 


ZIA RESTAURANT
Address: Via Goffredo Mameli 45 (Trastevere)
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7:30pm-10:30pm. Thursday-Saturday, lunch from 12:30-2:30pm.
Zia Restaurant -- which opened just under a year ago -- has been on my Favorites list for a while now, and having already covered the sweeter side of the menu, I thought it was about time I shared the savory side of it with you, too. The dishes at Zia -- run and owned by the incredibly talented Antonio Ziantoni -- are creative, beautiful, and delicious in that way where a telltale hush falls over the table as all parties take their first bite ** gazes off dreamily in to the distance.** The current menu boasts dishes like savory foie gras macarons; scallops with leeks and almonds; gnocchi with pumpkin, melty castelmagno cheese, and rosemary; tortelli with mushrooms and sea urchin; and even barbecue beef. To finish the meal, pastry genius Christian Marasca offers desserts like the oh-so-magical Nocciola, or Hazelnut, consisting of hazelnut mousse, vanilla caramel, and praline and hazelnut cookie; the Tourbillon, or a swirly, intensely vanilla-y tart; homemade chocolates; and currently on my radar and begging to be tried, La Mela, or vanilla mousse filled with a filling made with both cooked and raw apples and shaped and decorated to look just like an Golden Delicious (!!!) Bonus: The staff are some of the nicest, most accommodating people you’ll ever meet. Note: Zia is a bit too dark to take photos fit for the blog, so I've borrowed some from Instagram. Photos below courtesty of www.instagram.com/ziarestaurant and www.instagram.com/christianmarasca_.