Recipe: Pasta Maria

You know what’s awesome? When the Italian guy you thought you’d be learning how to cook from calls you the “better chef of the house” and asks what you’ll be making. And then wants seconds. And then thirds. And then asks you for the recipe.

I made the best pasta last night. It wasn’t my usual favorite type of pasta (super stuffed and gooey and creamy and alfredo-ey) but for some reason we couldn’t stop eating it. We joked it must be the mushrooms. Allora, I thought I’d share the recipe.

Now, in Italian cuisine, everyone expects the food they’re eating to have a name. You can’t just call it chicken and say you threw in some mushrooms, they don’t understand that. No, you need to say you made Pollo con funghi. And then it’s delicious. However, such practices are much too restricting for my cooking creativity, so the only fancy name I care to give my pasta is ‘Maria’ (“La Chiave!”) because I think the key to the whole thing was the last ingredient.

Pasta Maria

Makes: Roughly 4 servings if you’re not one to stuff your face.

Ingredients | Ingredienti

  • ~375g Pasta (eliche, fusilli, etc.)
  • 1 can Tomato pulp (polpa di pomodoro)
  • ~8-10 Mushrooms (funghi), chopped
  • 3 slices Prosciutto crudo (I prefer cotto myself), sliced and diced
  • 1/4 Red onion (cipollina), minced.
  • 2 cloves Garlic (aglio), minced (by hand, not garlic press!)
  • 1.5oz Olive oil (olio di oliva) – enough to cover the bottom of the pan, plus
  • 1/2 tsp. Regular salt (sale)
  • Coarse salt (sale grosso) – I figured out the how much salt to put in to make the past delicious even on its own. How much? Too much. Delicious.
  • Black pepper (pepe nero)
  • Basil seasoning (basilico)
  • twig Rosemary (rosemarino), fresh if possible, diced

Directions | Direzioni

1.Put water into a pot. How much water? Enough for the amount of pasta you’ll need.

2. Add sale grosso and a small blob of olive oil to the water.

3. Bring to a boil.

4. Put pasta into boiling water and lower to a simmer. You can keep boiling technically, I was just behind on my vegetable cutting and wanted to give myself more time.

Unlike the fancy cooking shows, I like to peel, cut and dice while other things are boiling and simmering. Allora,

5. Start peeling, cutting and dicing the veggies and prosciutto for the sauce.

6. Cover bottom of decently large pan (which needs to be enough for all your pasta!) with olive oil, and put on low setting.

7. Throw in minced onion and garlic and let simmer. Make sure the heat is low enough for these to cook and not burn!!

8. When onions and garlic start smelling delicious and are cooking but haven’t started to bronze too much yet, add all mushrooms into pan. Stir so that they are all at least somewhat covered in oil, but don’t worry about adding more if they’re not. Mushrooms eventually release their own water so they shouldn’t burn.

9. When nearly bronzed, sprinkle a dash of basil seasoning and a teaspoon of salt on top.

10. Add in prosciutto. Let simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

11. Add tomato pulp. Stir so everything is mixed. Let cook for a couple minutes.

At this point, I gave the sauce a try. Everything was great but it tasted too tomatoey. So I racked my brain for what counterbalanced tomato and added in another pinch of basil and then a larger dash of rosemary and stirred. And let me tell you, the rosemary did it. So good.

12. Taste sauce, add in large dash of fresh rosemary and stir.

13. Assuming the pasta is cooked by now, add pasta. Mix everything together.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

I cooked steak today!

…ish. But I did it!

It was my turn to make dinner and all we had was red meat. Now, I’ve never prepared red meat before. Like, ever. As in, the closest I’ve ever gotten to cooking red meat was throwing a Calgary Stampede burger on a bonfire. And ok, I’m sure I fried up a bit of bacon before. But that’s it.

I mean I’ve prepared other meat dishes. I can make you delicious salmon, red snapper, even sole, which, let’s face it, is completely tasteless. I’ve been known to whip up some good chicken here and there though I don’t eat it that often, and my spicy prawn dishes have been to die for.

But never carne rossa.

It haunted me. It poked fun at me in its giant frozen clump way. Continue reading I cooked steak today!

Festa della Donna [everywhere]

Yesterday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day (IWD). All over Italy, men woke up and immediately contacted the females in their lives – mothers, wives, friends – to wish them a Buona Festa della Donna. During the day they would also present to those closest to them flowers, specifically the yellow mimosa, the Socialist-supported official symbol of Italy’s Women’s Day.

Yes. Socialist supported.

The stories of the origins of IWD range from ancient Roman myths to modern tales of martyrdom, but the most consistent one points to a declaration made by the Socialist Party in 1909 in the United States, after which the national event was held. Quickly picked up the year after by the Danes, it was adopted the year after that by the Germans who decided to establish it as an annual, international day of civil awareness.

Awareness for what? You wouldn’t know it from the marketing it receives today but IWD was first held, and consequently established, largely as a political act promoting equal rights and suffrage for women as well as protesting sex discrimination. Presently, it is most prevalent everywhere but North America, and is observed as respectfully as Mother’s Day and as diligently as Valentine’s Day but without as much product marketing.

This however doesn’t stop the purchasing of chocolates, candy or flowers for what is now an occasion, and it didn’t stop my roommate/house owner from getting me a goody-bag filled with candy and a stuffed animal, making me a delicious dinner complete with champagne, and presenting me with a twig of yellow mimosas to call my own. And it was wonderful, this seemingly out-of-nowhere occasion to be adored: why not?

But I couldn’t help but wonder, is this what we were fighting for all those years ago?

When she held up the bag of cucumbers sans label, I just shook my head confused [larciano, italy]

Fun fact: when you go to a grocery store or supermercato here, you have to print out little scan labels for fruits and veggies by yourself. None of this ‘the cashier knows every 5-digit number corresponding to every type of everything’ stuff.

Every bin of tomatoes, apples, you name it (except mushrooms, which come sealed in little packages) will have a tablet featuring the price and the ‘key’ number that corresponds to it.

You take your zucchinis, put them in a little plastic bag (with a little plastic glove), put them on a fancy computer scale, choose ‘vegetable’, press the number/image ‘key’ that matches your particular ‘green’ and a label sticker complete with product name, weight and bar code gets printed out. Continue reading When she held up the bag of cucumbers sans label, I just shook my head confused [larciano, italy]

Allora, now we jog

After all the delighting I’ve been doing in all the pastas, pizzas and gelatos that Italy has to offer, I decided: Monday – I start jogging.

So Monday, bright and early, I jogged the Larciano/ Lamporecchio giro, a track that wasn’t so much a track as a gravel dirt path that ovalled some farms, a pond, and a pool in the area. Because it’s not a perfect oval and turns into a road that detours through a village, I managed to take a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on a main street. Determined to go the correct route on Wednesday, I begin my walk, walk, jog from the opposite end.

I am on my second ‘walk’ when a man with short curly brown hair and a slight potato nose catches up to me.  He slows down as he passes and garbles something in Italian.

“Something something tired,” I understand, and so I smile and nod, but he follows this up with, “Così?” I am confused, so I repeat after him, “Così?” like some parrot. He motions for me to follow and starts to jog a bit faster. “Così?” he says again and all of a sudden I am picking up speed to keep up with him and repeat “Così,” again like I totally agree even though I still have no idea what’s happening.

I am confused but feel awesome: I am on a morning jog with some Italian I don’t know who’s wearing a florescent yellow windbreaker. Life is good.

Before he can say anything else I turn to warn him: “Mi scusa, ma io no parlo bene l’Italiano,” I say in my best Italian just like my Pimsleur’s taught me.

He motions with his hand from me to him and back. “Insieme. Insieme.” Together, I understand. 

“Sì, sì.” Yes, yes, I nod emphatically.

We jog for a bit and then he turns to me and asks, “É il tuo primo giro?”

My mind races.

“Tuo primo?” He repeats, and shows me ‘one’ with his finger, and then a circle. Ah, yes, it is my first loop. “Sì.” I nod.

He garbles something again, and I think he is asking me how many loops I plan on doing. He holds up two fingers. “Due?”

Uhh….I stammer, doing the best international hand motion for ‘maybe’ I can think of to say that my last proper jog was roughly two months ago; two giros might be pushing it. He laughs.

We are reaching the turn that I had missed the last time around so I’m hesitant to run beside him hoping he’ll lead. He points left.

“Qui.” Here.

He slows down to a walk. “Something something camminiamo,” again, motioning slowing down with his hands. I know this word from Spanish. Now we walk. Ok.

As we reach another turn he says something that I apparently misunderstand because I manage to say, “Va bene, gracie,” in a way that signals I’m good and don’t want to run with him anymore.

“Non correre tanto?” He asks. “No.” I say. I do not run much. He smiles and says, “Allora,” Well then. “Ciao, ciao.”

He waves and runs off ahead of me and I am caught off guard but I wave and smile and say “Ciao” like it’s a word that I’m used to casually singsonging to random Italians on my morning jogs. I am slightly disappointed – I was ready to struggle a bit just to keep up with him – but then I realize that he had managed to lead me through the one part of the giro I was silently unsure about. It was brilliant. And now, I know where to jog. É una vita bella, no? Allora.