Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spaghetti a la Amatriciana

Spaghetti a la Amatriciana
I'm extra excited about this dish because I know it came from an authentic recipe.  The first time I ever tried this slightly spicy pasta was at an italian restaurant this summer and I knew I wanted to recreate it.  Lucky for me, one of my italian friends, Alberto, was kind enough to give me his family recipe!  If you can picture in your mind, every italian stereotype manifested in a single human being, you have Alberto. Not only is Alberto a pasta expert, but he eats pasta at least once a day in portions about three times the normal size.  And when I asked if we could use whole wheat spaghetti instead of white, Alberto, in all his Gap-clad italian glory replied NO!  

Alberto's father taught him how to cook this recipe and his grandmother taught his father and now Alberto has taught me :) Originally, pasta a la amatriciana was made by shepherds using pig's cheeks and pecorino cheese only.  After Napoleon brought tomatos from America to Italy, tomato sauce was added to the mix, along with white wine, hot peppers and garlic.  There are several versions of pasta a la amatriciana that involve varying amounts of olive oil, garlic and hot peppers.  The recipe we used is considered to be traditional save the fact that we used bacon instead of pig's cheek.  And if Alberto weren't there to harness my affinity for garlic, this dish probably would've turned out a little heavy on the spice! I highly recommend cooking with a native Italian, if not for the credibility and expertise, then certainly for the exaggerated hand gestures and delicious food!

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
6 oz. bacon, diced
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1-2 tbsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups grated pecorinocheese
1 box spaghetti
Salt and pepper to taste

Place one tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat.  Place the cloves of garlic in the oil and allow the pan to heat up.  Once the garlic is golden brown on the outside, remove from the pan and discard. After dicing the bacon, place in the pan and sauté until desired crispness is reached, stirring constantly.  Once the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan using a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. In the same pan, add the crushed red pepper and stir for a few minutes before adding the entire contents of the canned whole tomatoes.  If you want your sauce to be on the spicier side go for two tablespoons but if you prefer just a slight pepper flavor just add one. Once the tomatoes are added, allow to simmer for 7-8 minutes.  During this process, continuously mash the tomatoes with a fork to create a chunky tomato sauce.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add a small handful of salt and add the dry spaghetti. Once the tomatoes have been simmering for 7 or 8 minutes, add the wine and bring to a boil.  Once the wine has boiled, put the crispy bacon back into the pan with the tomatoes and allow to simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente.  Right before straining the spaghetti, add one cup of the pecorino cheese into the sauce and stir.  Strain the pasta and pour it right into the sauté pan with the sauce.  Stir everything together and transfer to a large serving bowl.  Pour the remaining half cup of pecorino cheese on top to garnish. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup
Once again the weather here influences my cooking.  The other morning after biking to school in the uncharacteristically chilly weather, my roommate Lexie commented "I really just want some soup".  Next thing you know...we have soup! Italian Wedding Soup has always been one of my favorites and not only does it not require a blender, but the ingredients are so simple I knew I could find them in any grocery store.  This soup was the perfect way to repay our friends Caitlin and Jane who had us over for delicious jambalaya on Sunday and the perfect way to end a chilly Monday.


For the meatballs:
1 1/4 lb ground chicken
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs 
3 cloves finely minced garlic        
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 large egg

For the soup:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion 
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 tsp garlic powder
5 cups chicken brother
4 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine 
1/2 cup very small pasta
1 bag baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a medium bowl, lightly mix all the ingredients for the meatballs with your hands.  Yeah it gets messy but hand mixing is the best way to ensure all of the ingredients get incorporated without being over-mixed. Using a tablespoon, scoop up small amounts of the ground chicken mixture and shape lightly with your hands into 1 to 1 ¼ inch balls. Place the balls on the cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, celery,  and garlic powder and sauté until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Next, add the broth and water and bring back to a boil. Then add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente. Add the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 2 minutes. Add spinach and stir just until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. My advice at this point would definitely be to garnish the soup with grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Since the weather here in gorgeous San Sebastián is starting to get a little chilly, I wanted to bake something that reminded me of Fall.  And being from New York where apple picking is a fundamental childhood memory, these muffins were the perfect thing!  I also wanted to use my fancy new silicone muffin molds.  Thanks, once again to the Asian Bazaar for supplying me with all the bakeware I could want at ridiculously low prices.  These muffins aren't sweet so if you prefer them a little sweeter I would add more sugar.  And according to a friend of mine, I'm on a little bit of a "cinna-binge", but the flavors of apples and cinnamon couldn't be more reminiscent of fall so I hope you forgive me! These muffins also stay super moist because of the apple inside. And one last thing, this marks my second baking success while having to convert measurements to grams! Woo!

4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar depending on how sweet you want them
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt 
4 teaspoons baking powder 
3/4 cup milk
1 apple peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons cinnamon

These muffins are SO easy!  The hardest thing about them is peeling the apple and that takes about a minute. Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar.  Add flour, eggs, salt, baking powder, milk, and chopped apple pieces..  Using a ladle or big spoon, put the batter in muffin molds.  This recipe should yield 12 good sized muffins.  Bake in preheated oven for twenty five minutes or until done.  About ten minutes before the muffins are done, open the oven, and sprinkle a tiny pinch of cinnamon on the top of each one.  If you do it any earlier the cinnamon will burn. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Enjoy!

By the way, I seriously recommend getting silicone bakeware. You don't need to grease it, you don't need those paper muffin cups and literally NOTHING sticks to it! I was amazed.  Below is a picture I just wanted to put up of San Sebastián the other night around dusk.  Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, October 7, 2010


These babies barely lasted long enough for me to take pictures! Seriously, I was a little worried by the way my roommates were hovering around the oven.  The smell was absolutely tantalizing.  After visiting Barcelona this past weekend, and seeing all of the delectable sweets and other yummy things at La Boquería market, I figured it was time to add another dessert item to my blog repetoire.  I actually got this recipe from Betty Crocker — she knew what she was doing. The first time I made these cinnabars was for a road trip with a few of my friends over the summer.  We downed the entire tupperware before we even got to our destination.  And after a debut like that, these cinnabars deserved a comeback.  Plus, it's my friend Maarten's birthday today so I can pretend I made them for him ;)

La Boquería in Barcelona
2 1/3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cups  sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

I faced several obstacles before successfully completing this recipe. First, It took me FOREVER to find baking powder in the local grocery.  Incidentally, it is not called "polvo de hornear" but "levadura".  Glad I know that now.  I also couldnt find vanilla extract if my life depended on it! Furthermore, not only did I mix the entire recipe by hand even though it's first few words were "with an electric mixer...", but I also converted all of the measurements to grams so that I could use my new spanish measuring cup.  These are the reasons why I am especially glad that the cinnabars worked out so well!

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix one tablespoon of sugar and one tablespoon of cinnamon together in a small bowl and set aside. Grease the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Adding one egg at a time, mix eggs and vanilla into sugar mixture until combined. Gradually beat in dry ingredients until well combined. Pour half the batter into the baking dish and spread evenly.  Take the cinnamon-sugar mixture and pour it evenly over batter. Using a large spoon, dollop the rest of the batter into the dish and spread with the back of the spoon. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Allow the bars to cool for at least a half hour, and during this time, stir together the cup of powdered sugar and two tablespoons of milk in a small bowl to make the glaze.  Once the bars are completely cooled, drizzle the glaze over the bars and cut into squares. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bilbao and Oktoberfest

Last week I finally ventured outside of San Sebastián!  Although I missed my lovely city the entire time.  By some power of God, my roommates and I managed to catch an 8 am bus to Bilbao last Wednesday.  Bilbao is a city about an hour away from San Sebastián and about twice the size.  It's much more industrial but has an old part with just as much charm as the old part here in San Sebastián.  After waking up at 7 am the only thing that would satisfy us upon our arrival at Bilbao was a complete spanish breakfast. In Spain they don't really do waffles or omelets, and definitely not bagels.  A traditional spanish breakfast consists of bread in some form and coffee.  Thus, a plate of napolitanas, a.k.a. pure bliss manifested in pastry form and café con leche satisfied our hunger. After a meal like that we were ready to take on Bilbao!

And by take on Bilbao, I really mean take on Bilbao.  Our main reason for visiting the city was to see the Guggenheim museum, however, we found it necessary to walk the length of the city twice, visit three other museums and one church.  Our tourist stops included the Museo de Arqueología for an introduction to Basque archeology, Museo Vasco for more on Basque history, el Museo de Bellas Artes for the Balenciaga design exhibit.  Balenciaga is considered to be the Picasso of fashion as far as Spain is concerned. And we concluded our museum tour with the Guggenheim.  Shown to the left, the Guggenheim in Bilbao is an exhibit itself.  The museum follows suit of the other Guggenheim museums across the world with its groundbreaking architecture designed by Frank Gehry. We were floored by the exhibits inside as well.  In one day, we had a very comprehensive Bilbao experience, and needless to say, we slept the entire bus ride home.

Oktoberfest was epic.  I wish I had more time to explore Munich over the weekend, but the time spent in the tents was more than worth the trip.  Shown above are the famous liter beers that are sold inside the tents at Oktoberfest.  Originally, Germany had a Reinheitsgebot, or ``purity order´´ that the only ingredients that could legally be used in the production of beer were water, barley, hops, and yeast. That order was repealed in 1987.  These beers contain 11% alcohol and sell for 8.50 euros.  But unless you have exact change, say goodbye to your 10, 20 or 50 euro bill.  Oktoberfest is like a giant carnival for adults.  There are rides, games, a ton of food and souvenir vendors, and several giant tents where the beer is sold.    My friends and I arrived at the tents at 7 am, waited for two and a half hours to be let in, and began the festivities at 10 am sharp.

By 11:30 it was time to explore the food options on the premises.  When most people think of German cuisine they think of beer and sausage.  And to be honest, I saw a lot of that this weekend. But in truth, there is much more to German food than beer and brats.   Alongside shnitzel and knödel, one of the most famous german dishes is spätzle. Spätzle is considered to be a noodle, although it is closer to a dumpling.  It´s probably easiest to compare spätzle to italian gnocchi. I know I wasn´t the only one craving a plate of cheesy spätzle this weekend. 

Among the traditional german foods at Oktoberfest, there were pretzels, donuts, bratwurst, several variations on the bread roll, caramel dipped apples, toffee covered nuts, and much more.  My lovely friend Steph is at right modeling the massive size of the pretzels sold in the tents.  To be honest, the pretzels were not quite as soft as the ones found on New York City street corners but with a little mustard they were still delicious!  Carnival food was by far the dominant form of nourishment and we barely ate anything that wasn't beige, but it was definitely a fun weekend!