Dining in Tuscany took taste of place to a whole new level to me. Pasta, rabbit and wine, oh my!
The first time I went to Italy, I ate the same thing for every. single. meal. For me, there was nothing better than Spaghetti Carbonara, twirling those noodles coated with the thin and rich sauce. The simplicity. The flavour. The porky bits.
Sometimes I scold myself for not having trying more dishes on on that first backpacking trip in my early 20s, but then I think “Meh, why not eat the thing you love?”
I have a serious love affair with cheesy pasta, and as anyone who knows me could tell you, I could eat pasta all day, everyday.
And the best thing about Carbonara? The dish is SO easy to make. Like any good Italian classic, Carbonara has five solid ingredients (which, btw, does NOT include cream) and like any good pasta dish, has several origin stories.
What’s in a name
Cabonara is derived from the Italian word “carbone” which means charcoal. The most wide-spread origin story for this dish is that it was regularly consumed by charcoal workers:
Spaghetti alla Carbonara = Coal Miner’s Spaghetti
There are also stories that the dish was created by a secret society, The Carbonari (oooooou), who were heavily involved with the unification of Italy in 1870. Most others stories aren’t so glamourous. Others attribute this name to the way the dish was originally cooked, over charcoal, or that is was just a simple shepherd dish that got popular.
Many attribute the name to the restaurant in Rome where Spaghetti Carbonara was “invented” in 1912, La Carbonara. I myself am skeptical of this one. Food historians debate the significance of the fact that this dish didn’t make its way into the Roman culinary annals until the 1950s and 60s, with some claiming this was due to American soldiers demanding the dish they ate with powdered eggs after the Second World War.
Wherever it came from, I’m thankful for the pasta gods for bringing this dish into my life! Spaghetti Carbonara is a great weeknight dish, and quick to make. I adapted this recipe from The Kitchn’s version because it was just too big for two people on a weeknight. While Adam and I could definitely polish off a pasta dish made for six people with absolutely no problem, I felt like we didn’t need to go there. Some people put peas in theirs…but gross. Other cooks will toss in a clove of garlic, but I say no way! If you want authentic, avoid these ingredients.
So, go on, make spaghetti carbonara.
Spaghetti Carbonara for Two
This classic dish is so delicious I always eat more than I should, so I adapted The Kitchn's Spaghetti Carbonara for 6 to make it a recipe for two!
- 1/2 pound dry spaghetti *Note: I always struggle with how much spaghetti this is especially when cooking for two. A good rule of thumb is to use about a quarter's size of uncooked noodles per person — so in this case about 50 cents worth
- 2 eggs
- 4 ounces of guanciale or pancetta *Note: more often then not I use the 150 gram President's Choice pancetta
- 1/2 cup of Parmesan-Reggiano
- 1/4 cup of Pecorino Romano *Note:unless you are a stickler for authenticity this is not a necessity like the parm is but it does add a punch of sharpness that is truly delicious
- lots of fresh cracked pepper
- sea salt
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously (the directions on The Kitchn say it should taste like ocean, which I thought was a great tip! Cook pasta until al dente. Strain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of that salty pasta water.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the guanciale for a few minutes until crispy and delicious and remove from heat.
Whisk up the eggs and cheese, but do not over mix.
Put the pan of guanciale back on medium heat and add half of the pasta water. Toss in the spaghetti and shake pan until most of the water has evaporated.
Take off the stove and add the egg-cheese mixture into the pan and stir quickly, very quickly — if you don't it will turn into a weird scrambled egg mixture. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more pasta water to make it creamy and slick.
Crack that pepper, lots of pepper. Salt to taste. (If you really made your water ocean-y, you probably won’t need to salt)
Serve immediately and enjoy it right away. When it gets cold it's a big CarbonarNO.
Last night I went to a cool event hosted by the Food Bloggers of Canada at Food Starter, a business accelerator program for people who are passionate about food. They help people commercialize their products by providing a production facility, commercial kitchen and baker equipment, seminars and …
Roma. A city containing gorgeous crumbling architecture, an actual country, and a lot of damn good pizza and pasta. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of great photos of the food I ate in Italy. Frankly, I was way too busy eating, and Rome was no exception. We ate some good food, and we ate some bad food, and we paid way too much for pizza near Trevi fountain.Finding breakfast, lunch and dinner can be a challenge, so I’m only going to talk about three restaurants in Rome.
Here is Rome for breakfast, lunch and dinner
This being my second visit to Rome I was much more excited about eating than I was about partying — which I did a lot of my first time — and we totally splurged on the hotel. White bathrobes, big bathtub and best of all, breakfast in bed.
Breakfast in Rome (in bed)
That’s right, every morning a lovely man would knock on our door with a tray of fresh pastries and hot coffee. High living at Roma Dreaming. It might not look like much, but the fresh berry pie was dense and moist and prepared us for a day of travelling back in time to when Augustus reigned supreme. The cappuccino was perfect. The ‘juice’ was meh.
The view from the balcony wasn’t half bad either. Even my atheist boyfriend marvelled at St. Peter’s dome.
Lunch in Rome
Lunch was a surprise. Apparently I have hipster radar and stumbled upon the only sandwich shop in Rome straight out of Brooklyn.
Gorgeous baguettes lined one full wall at My Bags baguetteria near the Piazza del Popolo. I went simple; prosciutto and mozzarella, Adam went for Cotto with smoked provolone and shaved ham. No need for condiments.
The place was packed inside and out, so we ate our sandwiches in the Borghese Gardens a short walk away with a one-legged pigeon I just can’t forget.
We worked up an appetite exploring ancient ruins.
Adam jumped around the Colosseum like a kid at Christmas — the exact reaction I had the first time I visited — the history nerds gleefully wandered, topping each other’s historical facts about the Colosseum and the Roman forum.
Dinner in Rome
The June evenings were warm, just cool enough to wander down the Corso to find a restaurant.
A rule of thumb: try to avoid the well-priced prix-fixes english menus in Rome. It might look appealing, and they are certainly in abundance, but they are average meals with pre-made sauces. Look for Italian menus on quiet streets for the perfect Roman meal.
Antica Enoteca is on the via della Croce a 3-minute walk from the Spanish Steps and a great place for alfresco dining.
Cacio e Pepe. I’d heard about it for years and somehow it had evaded my eyes on menus the first visit to Italy, probably because the only thing I ate was Carbonara (not that there’s anything wrong with Carbonara).
Cheese, pasta, pepper, perfetto. I cannot even describe how delicious this plate of pasta was, I won’t try, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Adam’s mushroom ravioli was also amazing. But not as amazing as the meat salad I had for my main. There aren’t any pictures of my Carpaccio di Manzo because I was too busy scarfing it down and moaning at how the thinly sliced beef melted in my mouth while warm parmesan reggiano and arugula danced on my tongue.
Every night there was gelato. Anywhere and everywhere.
I always had half-white chocolate, half-dark chocolate. Adam always went white chocolate.
I can’t lie, when I was home last summer and saw the sign for a yet to open restaurant that read Tavola: Post-Modern Mediterranean Dining, I couldn’t help but sigh. What the hell is post-modern Mediterranean food? As a history graduate, I am familiar with the term …
I DID IT!! After 12 months, 12 cover recipe challenges, 34 recipes, and 25 wines, I finally completed the Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge! What a delicious roller coaster of a year! To my pantry, I have added 6 types of vinegar, 4 types of …
C’est la fin! Finito! Dunzo!
The Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge IS COMPLETE!
Twelve delicious months ago, I challenge myself to cook every cover recipe of Food & Wine Magazine for the whole year of 2013, and last month I completed the challenge! I cannot believe it’s done: After 12 months, 34 recipes, and a shit ton of wine, I am proud say that I successfully completed the Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge.
December’s F&W was focused on ‘the best holiday recipes,’ so for good reason, the cover recipe was a show stopper: Prime Rib! The menu I put together was classically festive and reflected all the fun that is had around the holidays.
For December’s Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge:
Winter Salad with Avocado, Pomegranate and Almonds
Prime Rib with Horseradish Cream
Tuscan Kale alla Parmigiana
We ended the challenge like we started it: with good friends and lots of wine. Adam, Erin, Matt, and I got together at our place for one last evening of cooking on a chilly December night. The food actually took very little time to prepare despite the amount of alcohol we consumed (per usual), and with all my little elves in the kitchen, the dinner was on the table in record time!
For the first course: Winter Salad with Avocado, Pomegranate and Almonds. The salad was a great success, it was delicious! It was a really easy recipe to follow and I was surprised at the freshness of the combination of ingredients.
The dressing, a whisked delight of champagne vinegar, shallot, preserved lemon and dijon mustard, was a light and fresh covering for the salad. The citrus of the preserved lemon balanced really well with the creaminess of the avocado, and the pomegranate seeds added a real punch.
This was the first time that I worked with preserved lemon (pickled whole lemons), and I was blown away with how potent those shrivelled babies can be. They are very acidic, so when prepping them, watch those paper cuts. This was also the first time using Maldon sea salt, which is very flaky sea salt. It was such an interesting texture that it almost felt like it wasn’t food, but it was so delicious and brought the salad up a notch. Maldon sea salt adds great complexity to salads and I am already trying to find new ways to use it in my kitchen.
The preparation of the meat was pretty easy and it was obvious from reading the directions that it was going to taste delicious because the prime rib is basted in butter. Hello juicyness!
The meat reached the suggested temperature long before the allotted time, and it was so juicy and tender even after letting it rest for over half an hour. The horseradish cream was a surprising success as well. During the preparation of the sauce, the smell of the fresh grated horseradish was grossing everyone out, but mixed with the creme fraiche, shallots, champagne vinegar and chives, the sauce was a delicious partner to the buttery prime rib.
Though the photo of the main course may not do the meal justice, everything was just delicious! The Tuscan Kale, though a little runny, was super flavourful, with the Parmigiano-Reggiano taking a starring role in the dish. The nutmeg also added another level of flavour that really made this side dish a winner. The mashed potato and corn made the perfect compliments to the meal and it was great for a chilly December evening.
The whole meal was a great finale and a great end to a year of food adventuring. The past year has been a great learning experience for me: It has challenged me to use ingredients that I have never even seen in the grocery store before, to create menus based around a main dish, and to cook for bigger numbers of people. Though there have been ups and down throughout the past year, I wouldn’t have substituted one ingredient.
The monthly dinners will not be stopping, as the four of us have decided to continue into 2014 with a whole new set of recipes to Explore. Eat. Repeat. Stay tuned for a recipe round-up of the best and worst recipes of the Food and Wine Recipe Challenge! Cheers.
Happy uber belated Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, this is a post about my Thanksgiving meal, and this is another late posting for my Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge. For November’s issue there was a major focus on Thanksgiving meals because of the …
With all the guests I hosted and cooking I did in October, the month just flew by, and somehow the Cover Recipe Challenge got pushed to the back burner. However, in true Food Girl in Town fashion, I finished the challenge and posted late, so …
9 Months. That is how long I have been doing the Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge, and it feels like an eternity. I seriously cannot imagine how women are pregnant for this long because this labour of foodie love is getting old. I can’t lie: Though I thoroughly enjoy making and eating these delicious meals every month, drinking lots of wine, and having a laugh with good friends, I was getting kind of bored. I needed some excitement, some new fangled kitchen gadget or cooking technique to try. And so, with the change of the season, I had high hopes for the September issue of Food & Wine Magazine, that it would inspire me to Explore. Eat. Repeat. through the next four months of recipe challenges, that I would be more adventurous in the kitchen than ever before…
…And then September’s issue appeared in my mailbox, all about chicken.
Chicken? I thought. Are you kidding me? How boring, how ordinary.
Don’t get me wrong, I like chicken. It is a versatile protein, and I really love me some McNuggets, but I could not get excited about September’s cover recipe which looked like plain old chicken.
But thankfully, I found a couple of awesome recipes inside the issue that I wanted to try, including Chicken Fried Chicken Livers. I was pumped! I had never cooked chicken livers before, and come on, who doesn’t love anything that is chicken fried?
With many bottles of wine on hand, so began the September Cover Recipe Challenge.
September Food & Wine Cover Recipe Challenge:
Fillipino Grilled Chicken
Chicken Fried Chicken Livers
For the last few challenges I have been underestimating the length of time in which it takes to make the meals, so in hopes of eating before 11pm, I started the challenge in the early afternoon long before Adam came home from school, and Erin and Matt came over after work.
To start with, I made dessert because it had the longest prep time. I chose to make Goat Cheese Cakes with Rosemary and Lavender Honey, and was pretty excited about the idea of goat cheese for dessert.
I was even more excited about them being made with a ginger snap crust. I love ginger snaps and I used Purity Ginger Snaps made in Newfoundland after finding them in my local Halifax Sobeys, yay!
I am going to tell you up front so that you don’t get too excited about the outcome of the cheesecakes. They were a disaster. Though my knife came out clean on every single one when I checked them in the oven, those darned things did not cook all the way through. Normally I don’t talk about dessert in my posts until after the meal, but I didn’t want to disappoint you all; they were pretty gross. I have to say, my little guinea pigs sampled the cooked bits valiantly (Matt in particular made a strong effort) and though they tasted good, overall, they did not make par… This is the only one that was photographable.
For the appetizer, I went with a soup: Zucchini Soup with Creme Fraiche and Cilantro. I was pretty excited to make a creamy soup like this for the first time, but also nervous about using my cheap (but pretty and turquoise) Wal-Mart blender to combine the ingredients. But luckily my trusty bought-only-for-looks blender didn’t let me down and the soup turned out awesomely!
It was really easy to make, with a very readable recipe, and though it took me a couple of stores to track down the creme fraiche, I was really happy with the outcome and so were my dinner guests. They slurped that soup down pretty fast! The creamy texture paired with the bold flavours of the cilantro and poblano peppers made for an elegant and spicy appetizer, yum!
Next up, the second appetizer (that’s right, after 9 months we are getting fancy like that) the Chicken Fried Chicken Livers! These required a significant amount of preparation, but boy, was it worth it!
To start off, I marinated the chicken livers in buttermilk, soy sauce, and hot sauce overnight. I cannot lie to you, when I took them out of the fridge to cook them they smelled pretty weird, but in the name of foodie science, I trudged one. I dredged the marinated livers in flour and an egg mixture containing buttermilk, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and cumin.
Once those things hit the frying pan did they ever start to smell good! They turned the perfect crispy brown and everyone’s mouths were watering by the time the livers made it to the table. The batter was crispy, spicy, and the perfect shell for the creamy liver. None of us had had liver like this before, and I think it is my new favourite way…what’s not to like? Try this recipe ASAP!
The main course for the evening was the actual cover recipe for the Sepetmber issue: Filipino Grilled Chicken. It also required marinating overnight and a whole lot of random ingredients which included (but was not limited to): lemon juice, coconut vinegar, fish sauce, and star of anise…there was a lot going on in that marinade.
We popped the chicken on the grill after indulging in the Chicken Fried Chicken Livers, and soon the skin turned a golden brown. I was a little worried about the chicken not being cooked because it was pink in some areas, however, after checking the temp, I realized it was just the marinade, whew!
I served the chicken with some fresh corn on the cob and mashed potatoes, and I am sad to say that my favourite part of the dish was the corn: It was super fresh from the market and was buttery and yummy. That aside, the flavour of the chicken was weird to me, I didn’t really like the combination of spices with the star of anise, and I wasn’t overly impressed. It was just chicken, after all.
Overall I think the meal was a success mainly because of the deliciousness of the Chicken Fried Chicken Livers. The main event was underwhelming and the dessert was undercooked, but it was still a great evening with friends and lots of wine. I highly recommend those who haven’t tried liver before to try them chicken fried, you will not be disappointed. Soon you will Explore. Eat. Repeat your way through those vital organs, Bon Appetit!