Le Polpette al Sugo

At home in Rome, meatballs cooking on the stove top meant that rigatoni with meat sauce would be served as a first course.  The abundant tomato sauce in which the meatballs cook almost steals the show from the meatballs themselves, and makes for a tangy compliment to pasta.

There are many Italian meatball recipes.  This one is a simple favorite.

2 lbs lean ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs
3-4 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
The inside only of ½ loaf of Italian bread
3 28-oz. cans peeled whole tomatoes, or more if desired
Olive Oil
1 beef bullion cube
Dry red wine

Place the ground meat into a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs, parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese.  Place the inside of ½ loaf of Italian bread in a separate bowl.  Add just enough milk to moisten all of the bread, and let sit for a few minutes. Pull the bread piece by piece out of the bowl, squeeze to eliminate excess milk, and add it to the meat mixture.  Add 2 pinches of salt, and mix it all together with your hands.

Place about 1 cup of flour on a plate.  Shape the meat mixture into balls slightly larger than a golf ball.  Roll each meatball in flour and set on a plastic sheet.

Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil.  Cut a ¼ inch slice of a large onion, chop it finely, and sauté it in the olive oil.  When the onions are translucent, add two carrots, and two stalks of celery, cut into pieces.  Gently place the meatballs one by one into the pot, and then add the bullion cube and a dash of dry red wine.

Let the meatballs simmer in the sauté, stirring occasionally so that they brown on all sides.   After approximately 7-8 minutes your meatballs should be well-browned.

Add your whole tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to obtain a smooth sauce.  (See Methods section for more information).  You should use at least 3 large cans of whole tomatoes, but more is fine – you will just have more sauce left over.  Bring the sauce back to a boil, and then allow it to cook for 20 to 25 more minutes, adding salt to taste and stirring gently from time to time.

Serve in pasta bowls and have plenty of bread ready to soak up the sauce.

We paired our meatballs with a 2007 Barbera d’Alba from the producer Marchesi di Barolo.  Barbera d’Alba is from the Piedmont region of Italy.  The wine is a deep, brilliant ruby color with a dark cherry flavor.  Well-balanced and very drinkable, it is a perfect companion to polpette al sugo.

This posting is dedicated to all men who love to cook, and whose kitchens require divine intervention once they have finished in order to ever become clean again.


Prosciutto e Mozzarella

We don’t always share our kitchen well.  Our cooking styles are different; Cara is calm and meditative, while Stefano is turbulent and inspired.  Stefano’s creations are splendid, reminiscent of his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen.  When he is done cooking, every cabinet door is open; every pot, pan and utensil needs washing.

On weekend afternoons when the outdoors is calling, something simpler is called for.  Two simple ingredients, prosciutto and mozzarella, make a perfect lunch.  Add rustic bread, and call it a meal.

Prosciutto comes from the thigh and shoulder of the pig.  There is prosciutto crudo – uncooked, cured ham, and prosciutto cotto –  cooked ham.  Choose prosciutto crudo, which is a darker red in color, to accompany your mozzarella.  Ask at your deli counter for prosciutto that comes from Italy.  Parma and San Daniele are two good brands.  Ask for your prosciutto thinly sliced, but not so thin that it tears.  It will need to be at least 1/16th inch thick.

It is well worth finding good mozzarella for this dish.  We opted for mozzarella di bufala, which is made from the milk of the water buffalo. This delicacy from the Campania region of Italy is a larger, denser mozzarella with an earthier texture and a saltier taste.  The trademark of a good, fresh mozzarella is the milk that oozes out from its center when it is cut.

Il Panino
Enjoy your prosciutto e mozzarella with rustic bread, or make easy-to-take panini.

Next up: Stefano makes meatballs just the way his mom did, and the kitchen may never be the same.

Un Cono e Un Caffè al Pantheon

Our favorite monument in Rome is the Pantheon.  Built in 27 B.C. as a temple to the gods of Ancient Rome, rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 127 A.D. following the burning of Rome and converted to a Catholic church in the 7th century, it is one of Rome’s best preserved buildings.  The Pantheon boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, with an oculus in the center that lets in the Pantheon’s only source of light.  Today, the Pantheon is home to the tombs of famous painters, a composer, an architect, two kings and a queen.

Whenever we return to Rome we be sure to visit the Pantheon, and while we are there we make time to stop for some of the best gelato and caffè in all of Rome.

Gelateria Giolitti is just a few blocks away from the Pantheon.  With its gigantic columns at your back walk straight ahead, passing along the right side of the fountain and down a narrow street called Via della Maddalena.  Proceed three or four blocks until you reach Via degli Uffici del Vicario.  Turn right and walk about a block and a half.  Gelateria Giolitti is on the right.  If you were to continue down that road you’d reach the Italian Parliament and Chamber of Deputies.  Don’t do that, though.  Stop and have a gelato, instead.

Gelateria Giolitti is not exactly a secret, so expect a full house and plenty of jostling and crowding to get your gelato.  Don’t be intimidated – it is worth it!  Stop at the cassa (cash register) first, and pay for your cono (cone) or coppa (cup).  Take your receipt and proceed to the gelato bar.  Practice being assertive – you will need to be in order to get the attention of the gelato servers.  Hold your receipt up to demonstrate that you’ve paid already and make eye contact.  Be ready to call out the flavors of gelato you want on your cono or in your coppa.  If you can’t read the little flavor labels, just point.  You can choose two and sometimes three flavors per cono or coppa, depending on the size you ordered.  Some of our favorites are pistacchio (pistachio) and nocciola (hazlenut), although the fruit flavors are buonissimi, also.  Your server will ask you if you want panna (whipped cream) on top.  Say yes – this panna is natural and much less sweet that what we are used to, a perfect compliment to the gelato.

Of course, if all of this is too intimidating, you can just sit down at a little table and be served by a waiter.  We won’t hold it against you if you choose this option; but know that you will not only pay a hefty surcharge for a table and wait service, you will also miss out on the adventurous and authentic experience of standing elbow to elbow with Italians and tourists alike to order your gelato from Giolitti.

Next, it’s time to get what many claim is the best caffè in all of Rome.  Head back toward the Pantheon the way you came.  This time, however, once you get back to Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon is, veer to the right past the fountain and keep walking with the Pantheon on your immediate left until to get to Salita de’ Crescenzi.  Turn right onto Salita de’ Crescenzi.  Proceed until you get to Via di Sant’Eustachio, which turns into Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, home to Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè.

Sant’Eustachio hasn’t changed much since it opened in the late 1930s.  Its tight space sports the original decor, and the baristi are more formal appearing that elsewhere in Rome.  They mean business; watch as they clear away used tazze (espresso cups) and set new ones out on the bar with rhythmic precision.  Expect lines and crowding like at Giolitti.  Follow the same routine of paying first at the cassa and then taking your receipt to the bar.  Order the renowned Gran Caffè, a dense, creamy double-espresso.  You will simply not find a better caffè in Rome, or perhaps anywhere.  Do not order a cappuccino; those are for breakfast with your brioche.  Do not order a regular caffè; you can get those everywhere in Rome.  You are at Sant’Eustachio, and you must order a Gran Caffè.  We hope we are sufficiently clear on this point.

If you do, you just may find yourselves doing what we do when we visit Rome – ensuring we make a visit to the Pantheon, and enjoying a gelato and a caffè while we are there.

Gelateria Giolitti
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
00186 Roma

Sant’Eustachio il Caffè
Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82
00186 Roma

This map shows the Pantheon (B), Gelateria Giolitti (A) and Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (C).

On our most recent visit to Rome, we gathered three generations of family for a walk in the historical center, and of course, a visit to the Pantheon, Giolitti and Sant’Eustachio.  Gelato was had by all – Flavio, Davide, Giorgia, Noemi, Luca, Damiano, Sean, Mery, Patrizio, Ivana, Andrea, Debora, Daniele, Valentina, Marco, Cara, Stefano, e Maria.  Only the adults had caffè, though!

Crema di Caffè
If it may be a while before you have a chance to pop into Sant’Eutachio, here is a little trick you can use to render your home-made espresso more like a Gran Caffè.

When you make espresso, set aside a very small amount of the first coffee to come out of your espresso maker.  This coffee is stronger and richer that the coffee that follows.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the reserved coffee.  Stir rapidly until the sugar has dissolved and you have a dense, sticky, cream.  This is called crema di caffè.   Add a teaspoon or two of crema di caffè to each espresso you pour, and stir.  The crema will render your espresso extra-rich and creamy.

La Pizza Napoletana

In our house, we jokingly argue about whether the best pizza is made in Rome or in Naples.

Roman pizza has a thin, light crust which serves as the backdrop for the flavorful additions on top.  Neapolitan pizza, on the other hand, is all about the crust.  Made from only wheat flour, yeast, salt and water, it is crispy, tender and heartier than the Roman crust.

The dough is hand-tossed, topped perhaps with San Marzano tomatoes and mozzerella di bufala, and then fired in a wood-burning oven at 800° to 900° for up to 90 seconds.

Punch Pizza at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis is one of the places we visit when we want a real pizza.  Founded in 1996 with authenticity a top priority, Punch quickly established its credibility with the local Italian community and won over the locals with their exceptional pizzas.  Tonight, it was a perfect stop for a Bufalina pizza and a Peroni on tap.

The Bufalina is pizza bianca, which means a pizza without tomatoes.  It is topped with mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto and arugula.  For something different, ask them to hold the arugula until after the pizza is fired.

Punch is the English name for Pulcinella, a traditional Neapolitan character that that dresses in white and sports a black mask with a long, pointed nose.  Pulcinella dates back to the 17th century Commedia dell’Arte, but has now become famous as the crafty, irreverent star of puppet theater and symbol of the similarly irreverent city of Naples.

In an Italian pizzaria, pizzas are meant to serve one.  Each person orders his or her pizza, which is served on a large round plate.  You can share if you like, but the pizza is yours.

Italians fold their slice of pizza in half when they eat it in order to keep the tip from sagging.  To accomplish this, pick your pizza up by the crust, fold the two corners up and toward the center, and hold the pizza upright so that the toppings do not fall onto your plate.

Punch has a fantastic website with information about its beginnings, the art of Neapolitan pizza-making, life in the city of Naples, and more.  When you visit their site, be sure to check out the Buzz page to read the latest reviews, and the Connect page to see who’s been tweeting what about Punch and the city of Naples.

Find a Twin Cities Punch Pizza

Punch at Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis

Stefano and Cara to their Neapolitan friend Alfonso: “Alfonso, is the pizza better in Rome or in Naples?”

Alfonso: “The pizza is definitely better in Naples.  Pizza in Rome is not as good.  Unless the pizzetaio making the pizza in Rome is from Naples, then that pizza is good, too.”

La Carbonara

Not wanting to venture out to the market in the downpour, Spaghetti alla Carbonara was our choice for lunch on this stormy Sunday afternoon.   The creamy eggs, crispy guanciale, and sharp pecorino made for a hearty pasta dish that diverted our attention from the dark, thundering sky outside.

There are differing theories about the origin of la Carbonara’s name.  Some say that it was a preferred dish of Italian coalminers (carbonari) because of the non-perishable nature of the dry pasta, guanciale and pecorino cheese, and the availability of fresh eggs from the hens that they carried with them.  Others maintain that the recipe appeared shortly after the 1944 Liberation of Rome – a combination of Italian pasta and the bacon and eggs preferred by North American troops.

Many unauthentic versions of la Carbonara are around.  This one, though, is just like what you’d find in a Roman trattoria.  The trick lies in the authenticity of the ingredients and the technique.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the classic dishes of Rome, so it is fitting that we paired it with Fontana Candida, a dry white wine from Frascati, one of the hill towns surrounding Rome that make up the Castelli Romani.  Fontana Candida is a refreshing, minerally wine with a crisp acidity and green apple and citrus flavors.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 lb. spaghetti
100 grams guanciale*
Olive oil
6 eggs (5 yolks, 1 whole)
Pecorino cheese**
Black pepper

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.  When ready, salt the water (see the Methods section for more information) and add the spaghetti.

In the meanwhile, slice the guanciale into strips 1/4″ thick, and then cut again into small pieces.  Slowly fry the guanciale in olive oil until crisp, but not burned.  Remove from heat.

Separate the yolks from the whites of 5 eggs.  Place the yolks into a dish, and discard the whites.  Add one more whole egg to the yolk mixture, and beat by hand.  Set aside.

Grate enough pecorino cheese to add generously to the top of each plate of pasta.  Set aside.

When the spaghetti are cooked, scoop out a large cup of the boiling water to set aside, and then drain thoroughly.  Return the spaghetti to the pot and place back on the stove on medium heat.  Moving quickly, add first the guanciale and the oil it was cooked in, and then the eggs.  Stir quickly until the eggs are cooked, adding some of the reserved water so that the mixture is creamy but not runny.

Transfer the spaghetti to pasta plates, grind black pepper liberally on top, and finish with a generous sprinkling of pecorino.  Serve immediately.

*Guanciale is cured pork taken from the cheek of the pig.  It is more flavorful than its cousin pancetta, which is cured pork from the belly of the pig.  Both guanciale and pancetta are best purched in Italian specialty delis.  If you cannot find guanciale, pancetta works fine in this recipe.  If you cannot find either use pork belly, which is what we did today because we didn’t want to run out in the rain.

**Pecorino is a sharp aged cheese made from sheep milk.  We prefer pecorino in our carbonara, but parmigiano can be substituted.

Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico

Cosa mangiamo? – Italian for “What are we having to eat?” – is our way of opening our kitchen to you.  Once or twice a week, we will write about what we are preparing for dinner, tell you a little about the dish, explain how to make it, and show you what wine to pair it with.  We encourage you to try our recipes and and tell us what you think.

It seemed fitting that for Due Spaghetti’s inaugural post we prepare just that – due spaghetti!  Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico is a staple of Italian cuisine, and one of the easiest pasta dishes an Italian cook can make.  Our kids love it as much as we do, making it perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

We paired Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico with a wonderful 2009 Tuscan Chianti called Cetamura.  This wine is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo grapes.  It is fermented in stainless steel vats, which maintains the fruit flavors.  It’s a well-balanced wine with fresh, bright acidity and soft tannins that compliment the acidity in the simple tomato-based pasta dish.

Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico

1 large can of whole tomatoes
Large bunch of fresh basil
500 grams spaghetti
Fine and Coarse Salt

Rinse basil and pat dry.  Cut two cloves of garlic horizontally into quarters.  Sauté the garlic in olive oil in a saucepan, removing it from the oil once it becomes golden brown.  Don’t burn the garlic.  Add tomatoes, passing them through a food mill.  See the Methods section for more information about this.  Add salt to taste.  Simmer approximately 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened, adding the basil (uncut) for the final 5 minutes.  Serve over spaghetti cooked al dente with a sprinkling of grated parmesan on top.

Torre Normanna

If you have never been to Italy, you need to start planning a trip, now.  If you have been there, you need to start planning your return trip.

A friend recently returned from a trip to Italy raved to us about her experience in Cinque Terre, in the northern Ligurian coastal region. She told us about swimming off of a boat in the Mediterranean Sea, while an Italian chef on deck grilled freshly caught seafood to be served once her party returned onboard.  Why, she asked, would we ever have left a place like this?

That answer, of course, is complicated, but in short has to do with the fact that as regular, middle-class Italians we did not spend our days swimming in the Mediterranean Sea while onboard our yacht a chef grilled seafood for us (shirtless, I imagined, although admittedly this detail I added myself).

Our posts in this category are not about why we left Italy, but instead about our favorite places in Italy, so that all of you who visit can enjoy these wonders.  We start with an amazing restaurant called Torre Normanna on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, located south of Naples on the Mediterranean, where the mountains meet the sea.

We lunched at Torre Normanna while visiting our family in Rome this winter.  This Norman (as in “of Normandy”) Tower is a fortress that juts out into the clear blue-green Mediterranean Sea.  From the street, you walk along a narrow pathway into the ancient structure, up a flight of stairs and into the main dining hall, the windows of which open up onto the sea.

It was lunch time during low season when we were there, between Christmas and New Year’s, and the restaurant was quiet except for a few other couples.  The seafood menu was exceptional; our kids’ batter-fried seafood platters were abundant and came with a miniature shark perched on top with its jaws pointed toward them in a wide-open smile.  When you visit, order scialatielle ai frutti di mareScialatielle are a home-made egg pasta made in that region of Italy, and frutti di mare means “fruit of the sea”, or seafood.

Ask for a table adjacent to one of the arc-shaped windows that look out over the sea, or better yet, in warm months request a table on the patio or terrace.  There is a private beach available for patrons in summer months, as well.  Finally, be sure to use the restrooms while you are there, with their windows that open up the sea and let in the salty breeze.

Torre Normanna
Vai D. Taiani, 4
Strada Coastiera Amalfitana
Maiori, Amalfi Coast

La Crostata

Ciao!  Cara here. Today on my way to work I found myself behind a car sporting a simple bumper sticker with the message “Love People.  Feed Them Tasty Food.”  This, I thought, sums up why I cook and bake.  Nourishing people with good food is one of the things I find most pleasurable.

The act of preparing food nourishes my spirit, as well.  Much of my day is spent in the intellectual, analytical realm.   Preparing food is a much more primal activity, involving taste, smell, and often, touch.  It requires a balance of process and experimentation, structure and improvisation.

La Crostata di Marmellata is a perfect expression of this.  With my KitchenAid mixer still and forgotten in the background, I work the dough by hand right on my kitchen countertop, kneading it until the butter warms to the right temperature and the mixture comes together into a golden, elastic sphere.

There is nothing better in the world than the smell of a crostata baking in the oven.

La crostata can be paired with Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine with a thick, viscous texture and nut, toffee, caramel and raisin flavors.  Vin Santo has a crisp acidity that balances the sweetness of the jam and goes well with the crostata’s shortbread-like crust.

Vin Santo, which means Holy Wine, reportedly acquired its name during the 14th century in the Tuscan countryside near the city of Siena when wine left-over from mass was used to cure illness and disease.

La Crostata di Marmellata

250 grams flour*
100 grams sugar
A pinch of salt
100 grams butter
2 eggs (one whole, one yolk)
Zest of 1 lemon
Fruit jam of your choice
if available: **Lievito di Pane degli Angeli, made by the brand Paneangeli

Pour the flour, sugar and salt onto a clean work space, or if you prefer into a large mixing bowl.  If you are using Pane degli Angeli, pour half of one packet into a tea strainer, and then sprinkle the contents of the packet through the strainer onto your dry mixture, eliminating any clumps.  Form a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Add one whole egg and one egg yolk to the center of the well, followed by the butter cut into thin slices, and the lemon zest.  Using your hands, mix the dough quickly, working from the wet center and gradually incorporating more dry ingredients.  As you mix, the warmth of your hands will soften the butter and eventually the dough will come together into a smooth, elastic sphere.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the dough refrigerates, butter and flour a 9-inch tart or shallow round cake pan, and preheat the oven to 350° F.   When the dough has chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and unwrap it, spreading the plastic wrap out on your countertop and placing 2/3 of the dough on top of it.  Roll the dough out to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness.  Using the plastic wrap to help you, turn the dough into the prepared pan.  Press the dough tightly against the edges of the pan, trimming the excess.

Spread the jam evenly over the base of the dough.  Use enough jam to cover the surface, but avoid excess.  Use your hands to roll the remaining dough into thin strips that can be placed on top of the crostata in a lattice pattern.  Trim the strips even with the edge of the pan, and use a fork to create fluted edges.

Bake for 40 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the jam is bubbling.

* See Methods section for more information on measurement units, including a link to conversion tables

**Lievito di Pane Degli Angeli is an Italian leavening agent.  It renders the crust soft and light, but is not necessary – crostata can be made without it and many recipes do not call for it.  If you decide to try it, you can find it on Amazon.com by searching the brand name, Paneangeli.  The image below will help you know what to look for.

La Giulietta

Italians love their cars almost as much as their food and their wine.

While most cars out on the Italian strade and autostrade are the practical, small, 4-cylinder vehicles typical of European nations, there are a few models that symbolize Italian style, design and performance.  Our next car, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, is one of them.

The Giulietta is a historical car; first introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1954, it remained in production until 1965 and became an immediate success.  The Giulietta symbolized the advent of the Italian engineering boom and became the car that everyone desired, earning it the nickname “Italy’s sweetheart.”

In 2010 Alfa Romeo launched the refashioned Giulietta at the Geneva Motor show to great acclaim, revitalizing the company’s image and exciting passionisti of Alfa Romeo world-wide.  We test drove the Alfa Romeo when we were in Rome last December, and it is in fact a car to fall in love with.  Sporty, sleek, petite but powerful, Car and Driver says it “sizzles.”  When it finally comes to the U.S. hopefully by 2014, we will be the first in line to place our order.

Read what the Wall Street Journal says about the Giulietta: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704662604576257300108686920.html

See Car and Driver’s review of the Giulietta: http://www.caranddriver.com/news/car/10q1/2010_alfa_romeo_giulietta-official_photos_and_info

Link to Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta webpage:  http://www.alfagiulietta.com/Default2.aspx

See two of Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta video ads: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAlfaGiulietta#p/u/10/brPuuh0qBkw




Cara: “Stefano, what do Italians love more – their food and wine, or their cars?”
Stefano: “Their women.”