If I had to save one nut

August 18th, 2008, by Francesca

If I could save only one kind of nut from extinction, it would be hazelnuts, and I wouldn't even have to think about it. I've never met a hazelnut I didn't like, period. They can come in any form, hiding in mashed potatoes, crusted around a trout, homogenized in gelato, as the main ingredient in biscotti and cakes… I love them all.

So when I saw a recipe for hazelnut biscotti on one of the food blogs I check more or less regularly (Fior di zucca), I had to try it. The recipe is super easy, conveniently given both in English and Italian, and the biscottini came out fragrant and delicious.

I replaced the whole hazelnuts with hazelnut meal, since I had it handy, but that shouldn't make any difference since the recipe calls for grinding hazelnuts. The only real difference is that they should be peeled and my hazelnut meal includes ground skin. Those of you who've been around here for a while, know that I like rustic dishes more than super-licked "creations" and won't be surprised that I actually prefer this version. Hey, does that count as fiber?

I still haven't decided if I prefer the biscotti with or without powdered sugar.

By the way, anybody has suggestions on how to store biscotti (cookies)?

15 lbs of potatoes

March 28th, 2008, by Francesca

Last week, Ben came home from Costco with this:

15 lbs bag of potatoes

Yep, that's right: 15 lbs of potatoes.

So far we've had purè di patate (mashed potatoes) and patate in padella (potatoes in the pan). I forgot to season the cast iron pan after the last wash and the garlic/rosemary potatoes got a bit burnt, but there were no leftovers. There's something to be said for comfort food, n'est ce pas?

Now, will someone please suggest a recipe that will get me at least half-way through this bag? Potato jam anyone?

Garlic, my love

March 22nd, 2008, by Francesca

Hold on. Not the overwhelming garlicness of faux Italian restaurants… I am talking about the garlic innuendos of authentic Italian dishes here. Despite the disservice rendered by popular US restaurant chains and the legacy of bad TV shows, real Italian cooking makes sensible use of garlic and even within the wide range of cooking styles throughout the Italian peninsula — from garded restraint to colorful exuberance — herbs and spices are always just an accent, never the total annihilation of a dish.

garlic, aglio

Italian cuisine is about using the freshest seasonal products and in general the highest quality ingredients you can get your hands on. As a consequence, the main ingredients of a dish are allowed to shine through in all their glory; why obliterate them with a ton of spices?

If you believe everything you see on TV, you may be under the impression that garlic makes it into every Italian dish and in large quantities. Not so. Well, at least in Romagna, where garlic is certainly a staple item, most of the time it's only a couple of cloves that make it into the pan, to be removed promptly after the oil has been flavored.

Alas, after all these years in California, I fear that I have succumbed to the local ways and I am now erring on the side of excess. More often than not, I slice my garlic and leave it in the dish. As part of my culinary training, I will strive to experiment and change my ways. Who knows? I might even go back to removing garlic from the pan. :)

Tender leaves

March 17th, 2008, by Francesca

What better way to start my food blog than with one of my favorite things — fresh herbs? fresh herbs
Documenting my year in culinary school will be the main subject of Tanta Robina, at least in the beginning, but I also want to use this space to write down my thoughts on food, ingredients, and anything related to cooking and eating. Because, for me, cooking is all about the eating.
And I am not alone in this; see how Pipie is nibbling my Italian parsley there in the back of the photo? He may not be a connaisseur, but you gotta hand it to him: he is experimental. I want to be more like him from now on.
Pipie likes parsley The herbs I use the most are: Italian parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano. Keeping live plants as opposed to buying cut bunches offers me two advantages:
— I always have the freshest possible herbs, and
— the smallest, most tender leaves.
For some reason, the supermarkets here in Los Angeles carry mostly herbs on hormones, with gigantic, hard leaves that are unpleasant to eat. The local basil and parsley are especially oversized for my taste and the basil that comes in plastic containers often has chewy, leathery leaves that may be good for cooking, but have no place in a plate of insalata caprese.
basil, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme So, I hope you'll keep me company as I go through the Culinary Arts program at the California School of Culinary Arts (CSCA) and discover a new world of foods and cooking techniques. I am particularly looking forward to the International Cuisine module, although that will be towards the end of the program.
Just be patient with the inevitable glitches of the first few weeks, as I am using new blogging software and figuring things out as I go.
Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!