dinner–the full roma

February 3, 2011 Comments Off on dinner–the full roma

So with a full snow day today, I figured we could experiment a bit in the kitchen.  The kids were totally up for it, but they suggested we work around the concept of pizza for dinner.  I said sure, but we didn’t have any of the really good Peter Reinhart dough left.  It needs to sit in the fridge overnight, so I figured we’d try one of the same-day dough recipes and see how it stacked up.  The boy and I (as you may have seen) threw down after lunch, putting together a mean ball of yeast and bread flour, and I started hacking away at it an hour or so before dinner.

I made one tried and true marinara–actually the overly spicy amatriciana sauce from the other night minus the bacon–and told the girl we were going to try the potato pizza again.  I found a country-simple recipe that basically said slice the potatoes thin (ahoy, mandoline!), douse them in oil and rosemary, throw them on the crust, and bake the hell out of them.  My kind of recipe, really.  Our lazy crust worked fine–less yeasty than the Reinhart version, but easy to work with and serviceable, at any rate.  The amatrciana worked out well, and the boy recognized the heat and said he really liked it on the crust.  He also went through two glasses of milk, so this seems a worthy strategy to keep in mind going forward.  O and I discussed the potato pizza at length.  It was closer, we agreed, to the most awesomest pizza ever in Rome, but it was still missing something.  She correctly identified the rosemary as the key missing ingredient from last time, and thought the potatoes should be thicker.  “It was really like french fries–actual french fries–on the pizza, Dad,” she told me.  “But it’s still missing something tasty.”  I know exactly what that is, actually.  Salt.  A. Ton. Of. Salt.  I went and got the little jar of sea salt that was a complimentary welcome gift for signing up at the food co-op, and told her to sprinkle away.  “Closer,” she said.

What the meal was really missing, though, was the crucial second half.  We made it a point to go out for a meal once a week or so in Rome, and we usually went cheap and cheerful.  Trastevere, the neighborhood we lived in, was full of good neighborhood pizza joints that catered to natives and to tourists who had ventured one ring out from the centro.  These trattoria were one step up from the sidewalk pizza storefronts, so you got bread, K and I could get wine, and we could sit for a while and watch the street go by.  And, crucially, we could go on a walk through the neighborhood afterward, ending up at one of our three favorite gelato stands, grabbing cones full of silky, custardy goodness, and sitting in the main piazza to eat them.

And those gelati looked and tasted just about like this.  Oh, heck yes, we made gelato today.  It took most of the morning to get the custard put together, and some serious hawk-like monitoring to make sure we didn’t overcook it.  But we did it, and it was superb.

Gelato is at the high end of the ice cream decadence spectrum.  Where sorbet is basically fruit and sugar, and ice cream is basically cream and flavor, gelato is custard and flavor.  So the prep involved four egg yolks, whipping cream, and pounds of sugar–I used the organic cane stuff we bought the other day, and it made a difference.  Cooking that is a bit of a challenge, because you have to basically pasteurize the egg without boiling it.  Fortunately, my CIA deep fry thermometer was up to the challenge, and I was able to keep the mixture right at 170° until it thickened up.  It sat in the fridge all afternoon, and then we broke out the ice cream maker (a perverse thing to do on a day with 7″ of snow on the ground and the thermometer stuck at 2°…) and whipped it into shape.  It needed a good freeze after that, but we all agreed the effort had been well worth it.  It was silky smooth, just eggy enough, and full of vanilla flava.  And it didn’t hurt that we splurged and bought Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips–a touch of San Francisco in our Italian.  Fortunately it made a bunch, so we’ll be eating this through the weekend.  (For those keeping score, I ran five hard miles this morning, knowing full well that this might be coming).

And the punch line?  When I went out to do some late shopping after dinner, the co-op had a huge barrel of blood oranges on sale.  We had these for lunch all the time in Rome–they were a staple at the neighborhood market and both kids loved their super-sweet juice.  I brought them home and said “look what I bought,” and O knew instantly.

“This,” she said, “is the Romiest day yet!”  And she nommed one of these in about thirty seconds flat.

More snow days, please.  This was awesome…


suppli a telefono

January 17, 2011 Comments Off on suppli a telefono

We’ve eaten some pretty amazing street food on our travels.  Starting with potato knishes in New York, our low-budget dining has included exploding falafel, sausages in a small German town that were served in undersized buns (so as not to dilute the meaty experience), a shirtful of cheap baozi in a small Chinese village, and genuine New Orleans Lucky Dogs.  I once spent four days in Paris with almost no cash, and subsisted entirely on Nutella crepes.

All of these were great, but my favorite street food of all time have to be suppli a telefono, which a colleague in Rome introduced.  We’d been getting a daily slice of pizza at the neighborhood joint, and I finally got up the nerve to ask what the golden brown spheres on the top shelf were.  They seemed popular, but who knew what was inside?  “Suppli,” my colleague said.  “You should have one. They’re wonderful.”  And holy deep fried deliciousness, were they ever.  Inside the fried exterior was a soft, moist lump of risotto, and inside that, almost like a secret surprise, or the center of a Tootsie Roll pop, was a molten, lava-like core of creamy mozzarella.  The whole thing crunched and then just melted in your mouth, salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, all at once.  I was hooked, and I added an extra mile to my morning jog to support my newfound habit.

K and I resolved to try making them when we got home, but we had a lot of stuff to try and somehow these got lost in the shuffle.  This summer, though, while we were in Montreal, I got into a conversation with a fellow researcher from Italy, and as the conversation turned–inevitably–to food, I asked her about suppli. “Ah,” she said.  “You must have had those in the north.”  Rome, of course, is northern Italy if you’re from Sicily.  “At home they’re called aranciata.”  She explained that, according to popular lore, wives took leftover risotto, added a protein punch in the form of a cheesy middle, and deep fried the entire thing in a protective crust to keep it clean for husbands to take into the mines for lunch.  The idea allegedly was that you’d crack open the crust, discard the fried bit, and have a still-warm lunch of cheesy risotto.  K and I reckoned that must have been a myth, because no one in their right mind would pass up the crispy outside.  Up north, apparently, without the appetites of miners, the same idea came down in smaller suppli a telefono. Both names make sense–a large one looks a bit like a (dark) orange, and when you bite into one through the molten mozzarella, the result is a long, cable-like string of cheese that looks like a telephone wire.

With a ton of leftover risotto from last night (how did that happen?) and a new-found confidence in deep frying things in the dutch oven, I figured tonight would be a good evening to self-indulge.  The kids wanted no part of them, and it was out-night anyway (I had a single side salad, knowing what was coming).  It took a little searching, but I found a few recipes (for things like “deep fried rice balls,” far less sonorous a name), and I interpolated a little bit.  The process was actually really easy; I set up a little assembly line of flour, lightly-beaten egg, and Panko bread crumbs.  While the oil was heating up, I made 1-1/2″ balls of the risotto, pushed one or two mozzarella pearls into them, dredged them in the flour, then covered them in egg and crumbs.  Once the oil hit 350° I dropped in about four at a time, turned them for four or five minutes, and let them sit for a while.  The first batch was too hot–a little too crispy on the outside, but after the oil cooled down the rest of them came out glowing orange, hot on the inside, and with that molten cheese core that strung springy strands of cheese when I bit into them.

No reliance on subtlety or craftsmanship here, just a really good idea and ingredients that can take a beating.  Ultimate street food.  High calorie and high carb, but so far I’ve been able to limit myself to three for dinner.  I’m going to throw a couple in the oven for lunch tomorrow and see how they reheat.  And Chris, if you’re reading this, thanks for the tip.  I think I still owe you a suppli lunch at Ghetto Pizza, and if you’ll come down for reviews from Switzerland next year, you’ll get your due.

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