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Maureen B. Fant

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Posts posted by Maureen B. Fant

  1. Fresh squid ink is extremely perishable, decaying by the hour, according to the Portuguese I knew in the Algarve. It must be used immediately or the flavor turns unpleasant.

    Presumably the clock starts ticking when the sac is broken and the ink released? In this recipe, you clean the seppie and cut them in pieces, leaving the sac intact. then when you toss the seppie pieces in the pan, you break up the sacs and release the ink.

    Also, terminology question: why does the Italian refer to cuttlefish ink and the English and Spanish to squid?

  2. I thought Testaccio was mainly butchers -- fish stores too?

    Yes, historically Testaccio is all about meat, because of the Mattatoio, the old slaughterhouse, but the market has an entire side devoted to fish vendors. Once they get over the holidays (Befana yet to come), they may be amenable to helping me with my seppia problem.

  3. Thanks all. The ink sac seems to hold less than I thought. That is actually good news if the store-bought stuff is nasty -- smaller quantities needed.

    I'll see if one of my fish guys at Testaccio will clean me a couple of keys of cuttlefish and leave the sacs intact, or I'll twist the arm of my colleague who actually drafted the Italian of the recipe. The quantity is meant to dress a pound of pasta, so that probably needs to be verified too.

  4. I'm translating an Italian pasta-sauce recipe that calls for 2 kg of small "seppie," which are cuttlefish. You are supposed to reserve the ink sacs and use the ink. I am guessing that many North American readers will want to buy the cuttlefish already cleaned and the ink in neat little packages. So I have some questions:

    1. What I am finding for sale is called "squid ink", sometimes subtitled "nero di seppia". Walk through any Italian fish market and you will see a distinction made between seppie and calamari (and totani, another kind of squid). So (a) what is in the package, and (b) does it matter?

    2. Anybody have a clue how much packaged ink would be needed to approximate the amount from a kilo of small cuttlefish?

    Many thanks!

  5. I hear parolacce all the time. I'm just saying I would be very surprised to find one on a beverage label. And if your remarks were aimed at me, mi faccia il favore.

    Now, back to beer. We happened onto a darling little shop today in Copenhagen called Barley Wine. It had every sort of beer and a nice lady playing great blues on an actual turntable. After building up to it with various kinds of chitchat, I finally asked her about STronzo beer. She said, yes it is serious, but she doesn’t carry it because she doesn’t like their whole attitude and ads. It is very new and made locally by two brothers. We never did find it on sale. I forgot to ask if it had anything to do with Amager, but it sounds like it doesn’t. We combed the airport as a last resort, but no luck.

  6. Sorry, but I don't buy all that about the Italian love of parolacce. Words like stronzo are certainly more common than their Anglo-Saxon equivalents, but you do not find such words on billboards in major railroad stations. (I have lived in Rome for more than 30 years.) In any case, it's a Danish beer. We have been looking all over Copenhagen but can't find it on sale and we are both (and my husband is Italian with as spicy a vocabulary as anyone) embarrassed to ask for it. Meanwhile, a Google search has turned up the priceless information that there is a Stronzo Red Frikken Ale. The ratebeer.com site attributes it to the Amager Bryghus, a Copenhagen microbrewery, but their site doesn’t claim parentage of the Stronzo line. Curiouser and curiouser.

  7. We got off the train from Malmø yesterday and nearly rolled off the platform in mirth and amazement. "The beer with attitude" indeed. My Roman husband is dying to buy a bottle to bring back to the university. Actually he wants to drink it and take the empty bottle -- hand luggage, you know. But so far we haven't seen it on sale. Somebody once sent a spoof scientific paper to a journal under the byline Stronzo Bestiale, and it was actually published. So we can assume there are nuances of the Italian language that remain terra incognita to many people, though you would think their business interests would lead them to ask. There is a coffee place in Manhattan, a Swedish-owned espresso bar, called Fika. I think that trumps stronzo, except that I'm sure STronzo beer is on purpose. I did take a photo but there's a big flash reflection in the middle.



  8. Compliments on the photography. Those dishes look more delicious than anything I've ever had at that restaurant, but I trust you and will not hesitate to return. I do find the place a bit uncomfortable and claustrophobic, however. The brothers, whose family name escapes me, are indeed known far and wide for their pulchritude, and they're nice too. Some notes on your menu:

    - the olives are typical of the Marche region, specifically of Ascoli Piceno, and are called olive all'ascolana. When done right, as I presume these were, they are made with a particular variety of olive, which is spiraled off the stone, filled with meat, and recomposed into an olive shape before being breaded and fried. Debased versions are a staple of Roman pizzerias, but it's worth going to Monti or Al Ceppo for good ones.

    - the sweet in your antipasto is another typical marchigiano tidbit -- it was a cremino, pastry cream chilled and cut into a lozenge shape, then breaded and fried

    - the flower is Roman Jewish (they DO cook Roman dishes there); sliced fried artichokes are Roman too, but I can't imagine Rome has a monopoly

    - the soft, spreadable salami is ciauscolo (4 syllables), also typical of the Marche, and gives me palpitations just to look at it

    - the roast lamb with roast potatoes is as Roman as they come

    As for vegetables, what you call rapini (a word I have never heard in Italy) in Rome are called broccoletti. Broccoletti and chicory are boiled then "ripassati in padella" -- sautéed with garlic and chile. Spinach is normally served just steamed with lemon and oil on the side. There are other preparations in the cookbooks but I've never seen them on menus.

    And finally, to be utterly obsessive, that yummy-looking pasta was not rigatoni but mezze maniche, meaning "short sleeves," similar to rigatoni but half the length.



  9. I don't think I can get readymade puff pastry, but this whole idea starts me rethinking about the teglia di Gaeta. Instead of one big pie, I wonder if it could work as the small bundles you describe. The filling contains mainly ricotta but also lots of onions, sliced and sautéed, lots of fresh herbs, and also some shredded scamorza (though I will have to go look because I may be hallucinating), also eggs. I can buy some sort of pastry or pizza crust, but I should probably just suck it up and try to make it.

  10. Yes that would be delish, though it wouldn’t make enough of a dent in my supply, and we're still working through the Easter sweets for breakfast. I can tell you it's also absolutely wonderful in a little bowl with maple syrup, but we're fresh out and anyway we still have a house full of sweets. But ricotta and honey are certainly a match made in heaven.

  11. In a fit of enthusiasm I bought a small basket of good ricotta at the market Saturday, thinking we'd serve it as-is on Sunday, but we had so much stuff, I didn’t bring it out. Now every time I open the fridge it squawks at me that it's not getting any younger. I have realized for some time now that I greatly need new ricotta ideas, so here I am. Let me specify: I really don't want to make a sweet; I already know how to make regular pasta con la ricotta and view it as a last resort (though it may come to that), and I'm too exhausted from the Easter lunch yesterday to think about making ravioli. I might wait till tomorrow (when I can buy eggs) and make a tiella di Gaeta with ricotta, herbs, and onions, though my enthusiasm does not extend to the making of pastry. I also might just wind up putting it out with some excellent salami and bread and hoping Franco will eat it. Still, I'm sure there's some wonderful dish out there in ricotta land that I'm totally missing.

    Maureen B. Fant


  12. The puttanesca I made the other evening was so delish I am bursting to describe it. I started the usual way with oil, crushed garlic, a piece of chile (never flakes, and this was home-dried from Oretta's garden in Sabina), and maybe 3 oil-packed anchovy fillets over med-low heat. The oil was not my usual extra-virgin but what remained from a just-finished jar of very upscale sun-dried tomatoes from Puglia. The tomato component came from my freezer -- when I have leftover cherry or other small tomatoes, I roast them, put them through the mill, and freeze. The olives were olive paste from the fabulous oil producer in Sabina where we buy oil, and the capers (usually salt-packed from Pantelleria) were pre-minced in a jar we'd bought in Sardinia (Sardinian capers, of course). Both olives and capers, in whatever form, are added at the very end. The spaghetti was Martelli (extraodinary).

  13. I sometimes use a bit over half a packet, leaving myself with a dilemma for next time!

    Yes, if you stick you carefully weighed out halves and quarters, you don't wind up with a collection of odds and ends. Also from that point of view it helps to stick to the same shape and brand. Every so often I take all the odd bits and combine them in a pasta al forno, then start over.

  14. Most pasta comes in half-kilo packages, and the two of us almost always demolish half a package for one of our spartan evenings at home (pasta with some sort of cheeseless vegetable sauce, or maybe tuna, or puttanesca) followed by a salad. For dinner parties I can feed five with a half kilo, but I rarely get change from the same half kilo with four at the table. I'll push it to six per package if we have a humongous secondo, like a major fireplace pork grill (the annual "maialata").

    The Italian rule of thumb is 100 grams per serving, and more like 80 g for something rich like cacio e pepe (though not in our house, where 80 g per person, however it's dressed, would be met by derision and protest). Italian recipes think you can get six servings out of a half kilo, which you can only if one of your guests is one of those annoying birdlike eaters who practically counts out four rigatoni. If your condiment is something voluminous like cauliflower or broccolo romanesco, which is usually served with penne or rigatoni, you can get away with less pasta, and in fact those are good to remember if you're trying to trick yourself into eating less pasta. I always make the same half package anyway, but may have leftovers, which is fine -- and rare. You might think our dining table was on an incline and everything not nailed down winds up at the other end. I'm not mentioning any names, but the battle cry is "No prisoners!"

    Some time ago I starting weighing out the pasta in preference to eyeballing the amounts, and I must say it makes life easier.

  15. This is a fascinating discussion; for one thing, it illustrates how subjective the question of sauce pairing is.

    In Bologna, where the tagliatella reached its transparent perfection (and in 1972 was registered with the local Chamber of Commerce as being 8 mm wide cooked), ragù bolognese is practically the obligatory condiment. I would not recommend telling a bolognese you don't like ragù on your tagliatelle.

    Pappardelle, of Tuscan origin (but found elsewhere with variations on the name), are thicker and considerably wider, but the width is more variable. They are traditionally served with hearty ragù (though not bolognese because in Bologna, known for its fine products but not for its variety, they eat ragù on tagliatelle). Pappardelle are more likely to be served with game. The original pappardelle were not egg noodles but flour and water, sometimes with a component of fine bran. There is today (now that they are probably made with the exact same ingredients as tagliatelle) no inherent reason why two so similar pastas should not be equally at home with two so similar condiments as the hearty meat sauce of Bologna and, say, a ragù of wild boar or hare, which are commonly served on pappardelle. The only reason why Italians would prefer the standard combinations is tradition, and it's interesting to see perceptive non-Italians practically standing on their heads (tongue width??) to explain or justify their subjective preferences. But it's also enlightening to read why and how shape makes such a difference to taste.

  16. Here in Rome, people make pasta alla caprese, and Volpetti, my habitual gourmet shop, always has a couple of cold pastas for sale -- grilled veg and ricotta infornata is one I've copied at home -- but these are not mainstream. Marcella Hazan -- per quanto sia brava, not, I realize, the voice of how things are done in Italy -- holds her nose and gives a recipe or two for cold pasta. My friend Oretta Zanini De Vita, author of Encyclopedia of Pasta (which I translated), refuses to put a cold pasta in the new book we are now planning. Genoa is awfully far away, and we know things aren't the same all over Italy, but here in the center, pasta salads are conservative and rare. And I think that nowhere in Italy would you find the sort of pasta salads you find in the US. For my terrace dinners I've settled on room-temp pasta e fagioli, though for big terrace parties I'll do something with vegs and a room-temp fusilli al pesto, which I hesitate to admit to a genovese, but it goes over pretty well in Roma.

  17. Sorry, Tim, but no Italian will countenance the idea of leftover pasta. It goes to the dog, period.

    Nonsense. Leftover pasta goes into a frittata or gets ripassata in padella. Or you just eat it straight. What Italians find hard to countenance -- meaning what purists of a certain age find hard -- is cold pasta, or pasta salad, but modern life is winning on that front.

  18. Anybody want to take on those authenticity police?

    Ahhhh...and therein lies the truth.

    As I think I've made pretty clear, my personal opinion is to each his own.

    Those that are happy adhering to hard and fast rules as to what is "right" should definitely do it their way.

    And those that are fearful and intimidated as to what is "wrong" should relax, and do it their way.

    It's just food after all.

    But hey, like I said...

    That's just my opinion.



    I think I used to think like that, long ago. But I have lived in Italy for more than 30 years. I used to resist, but gradually came around to being convinced that in the matter of traditional Italian foods, it was foolish not to give the Italians the benefit of the doubt. And I've often said that the chaos that invades so many aspects of life is not found in the food. If you order carbonara in a Roman trattoria, the sort of place to which it is native, you have a right to expect to receive a dish containing only egg, guanciale, cheese, and pepper, and maybe a little olive oil, though that isn't quite "philological". Otherwise you have chaos. To give you an oft-cited example, the restaurant Al Moro in Rome serves "spaghetti al Moro," which is carbonara in which the black pepper is replaced by red. That's the only difference, but they changed the name. If you add leftover chicken to your carbonara, it becomes something else, not carbonara.

    But honestly, it seems to be carbonara, of all humble dishes, that people get most worked up about. I first encountered carbonara in Rome in 1968, and when I returned to New York and made it for my friends, they had never seen anything like it. In the long "special relationship" between Americans and Italian food, carbonara is a relative newcomer. But it IS a particular dish that belongs to a particular tradition, and that, for me, means it deserves respect.

  19. I have a question about the egg making the sauce for the carbonara. Exactly how "eggy", if at all, is it supposed to taste? My problem is I don't like the taste of eggs on their own. I'll eat a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich if I'm starving, but I'd rather do without the egg. I want to try making this the real way at least once so I'm going to do that tonight, but should the egg be a prominent flavor component in this dish? I've never had or made this dish, so I don't know exactly what I'm looking for. If I wind up not liking my results, I'm not above omitting the egg, subbing in some cream and then calling it almost-carbonara-but-not-really for the authenticity police.

    If, as you should, you use high-quality fresh eggs, they will have taste, which should be the taste of egg. Fortunately the authenticity police can offer you a solution to keep you from the slippery slope of making excuses for adding cream and making snide remarks about the authenticity police, who have feelings too.

    What you should be making instead of carbonara is spaghetti alla gricia, also known as amatriciana bianca. It contains guanciale, pecorino, and pasta, period.

    I spent the day in Amatrice today for the sagra degli spaghetti all'amatriciana (pleasant, but not thrilling). We discovered a wonderful pork shop and bought some special preservative-free guanciale made from a special black pig, but that is another story. At the pork shop, I picked up a flyer giving recipes for gricia, amatriciana, and carbonara. At the bottom of the page it appends three lists, which presumably apply to all three recipes. I translate:

    Obligatory ingredients: guanciale, pecorino, pelati/sanmarsani [sic] (canned peeled or San Marzano tomatoes), spaghetti or bucatini

    Permissible ingredients: short pasta, red pepper, black pepper, dry wine

    Forbidden ingredients: pancetta, onion/garlic, celery/carrot, sweet, tart, or Pachino (cherry) tomatoes

    A footnote explains that the wine and pepper are modern additions. The wine cuts the grease, and the pepper is used because the curing process of the guanciale nowadays doesn’t always observe traditional practice.

    Anybody want to take on those authenticity police?

  20. Bucatini all'amatriciana and the other Gang of Four pastas (gricia, carbonara, and cacio e pepe) came to Rome from the Apennines of northeast Lazio and Abruzzo. That is sheep country, and the cheeses are sheep cheeses. I would not expect to find anything but a sheep cheese on any of the area's traditional pastas, though a mix of pecorino romano and parmigiano is often used today on carbonara because it's delicious.

    Authenticity sounds so inflexible (yet I don't consider it a dirty word); it's better to speak of tradition. And tradition (often inflexible itself) does not suggest but dictates pecorino romano on "la matriciana" and "la gricia." You can use parmigiano instead of pecorino to make a fancy cacio e pepe, but where parmigiano actually comes from you would be dressing tagliatelle with butter and parmigiano, very different from tonnarelli or spaghetti with just cheese and pepper. Parmigiano as a national cheese is a relatively new phenomenon, and if you investigate traditional recipes from regions and areas distant from Emilia-Romagna, the region that contains the parmigiano-reggiano DOP area, you'll find that where parmigiano is called for today there used to be a local cheese. And even in the North parmigiano-reggiano isn't universally used -- north of the Po grana padano is often preferred.

    The pecorino romano (as opposed to all the bazillion other kinds of pecorino) production zone includes parts of Sardinia as well as Lazio. The cheese can be eaten quite young (primo sale) and is grated at about 10-12 months. At about 8 months it's essentially a hard cheese but pleasantly soapy and is delicious to nibble in spring with fresh fava beans. Parmigiano-reggiano is aged for a minimum of 24 months.

    At least here in pecorino romano country, the two cheeses are keep quite separate with very few exceptions (like pesto alla genovese, which there is no hope of making authentically here anyway if you believe the Ligurians about our basil, but I digress). When I tell my tomato man in the market that I'm going to make a fresh tomato sauce, he grills me as to whether I'm going to use onion and parmigiano or garlic, peperoncino, and pecorino. If the former, he gives me sweeter tomatoes, if the latter, more "saporiti" (meaning flavorful without being sweet, savory).

  21. While the spaghetti is cooking, warm a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil gently in a large frying pan. Add a piece of dried chili or a whole small one (broken for more strength, left whole to be milder) and either a crushed clove or two of garlic or a couple of thin-sliced cloves. The garlic should become soft but not brown. If you are using a whole crush clove, remove it (or them) and discard when golden. Remove the pepper too. When the spaghetti is al dente, lift it out of the pot with a hand-held colander, big fork, or whatever works for you, and drop it into the frying pan. Toss it over low heat and serve immediately. You can top it with chopped parsley but not cheese.

  22. I am making no plans at all, we will see what we see and eat what we eat. ...

    The first rule is Do your homework. The footloose approach you describe is guaranteed to make you waste a number of precious meal slots. There is very good food in Rome, but Rome has been fleecing tourists for millennia. Your breezy optimism suggests you have never been here before, which is all the more reason to be prepared.

    In addition to having a decent list of places in your pocket, even if you don't want to plan when to go to them, you should also have done some reading about what the typical Roman dishes are. Also, carry a mobile phone. When you get hungry, call a place on your list to make sure they're open and have a table. You don't have to reserve very far in advance in Rome at average places (half an hour is often sufficient except on weekends), but it helps avoid disappointment.

    The lower rung of tourist places is easily identified by blackboards outside, preprinted menus with way too many dishes listed, and a waitperson standing outside inviting you in. The more insidious type of tourist trap is harder to identify till you're inside, and sometimes till the bill comes, which brings me back to doing your homework. In general, the guidebooks and boards like this list restaurants that are, if not always brilliant, at least honest. The hotel concierge may have his own reasons for recommending a place. Savvy choosers look for corroboration. The concierge may recommend a good place, and you'll know it if someone else has recommended it too.

  23. The last time I went to Cantina Cantarini, which I used to think was adorable and genuine, I thought it was pretty pathetic, and the time before that my Italian dining companions were totally underwhelmed. In any case, it doesn’t have fish every day. The system is, or at least used to be, that certain days of the week were for fish, others for meat. I forget which days, exc presumably Friday can be counted on for fish. It gets very crowded and is in a nice piazza with tables outside. It stands out for being an old-style trattoria and a bargain in a high-rent neighborhood, but it's not a gastronomic destination.

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