M&M Enterprise Cooking, Vol. XIX

the feast

Here’s a pre-Thanksgiving Day meal complete with primo, secondo and contorno. I was most excited about the contorno and had been squirreling away supplies from the dining facility for some time for it. The primo, a dish more suited to Italy’s hot summers, came out surprisingly well, and the primo, a simple soup, rounded it out. I liked this meal so much I had it twice yesterday — or was it just that I had leftovers and it was easy to allungare the soup a bit? One or the other, let’s say.

Primo — zuppa trapanese all’aragosta


This one was made easy by Better than Bouillon lobster base. Of course the actual recipe from Trapani calls for catching one’s own lobster and then making decorative use of the claw, but here there’s that whole piddly detail of being 1400 km from the nearest port.

Simply boil water, add a tablespoon of the base, break some spaghetti up and toss it in (correct that breaking is never done, but this is a soup). I added a garlic clove and for the dinner version several cherry tomatoes. You can also put in a spot of tomato paste, or, since I didn’t have that, some tomato passata.

Secondo — roast beef all’inglese

this little piggy had roast beef

Also very easy and made possible by the rare (pun intended) appearance of roast beef at the local sandwich bar. Spread out and arrange the slices, dress with juice of a fresh quarter lemon, good EVOO, S&P, and thin slices of a grana-type cheese (I used grana padano). Cherry tomatoes are a nice addition; arugula usually works wonders, but the dining facility had run out mere seconds before.



Contorno — cavoletti di bruxelles gorgonzola e noci

eat your greens!

I found this recipe when researching how to to do a perfect pasta with gorgonzola and walnuts, and it makes use of both to liven up the kiddie favorite of Brussels sprouts. This required a bit (but not too much prep).

There is absolutely no gorgonzola here, so bleu cheese crumbles have to work.

I swiped a roll from the salad bar awhile back, let it go stale, and then it nicely crumbled into fine dustings of bread crumbs.

Big shelled walnuts are usually around, so I diced up some of those finely. (Leftover crushed nuts go well with yogurt and honey.)

By some miracle, one of the few non-depleted stocks at the Italian PX is butter from Udine. They have gobs of it.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C and use an option that gets some heat from above, as you’ll want a nice crust. (If you have a broiler, broil at the end.)


Prep the above, boil your sprouts, and drain them. As you’re transferring them into Pyrex, clarify the butter in the still-hot pot you boiled them in. Combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, nuts and clarified butter with the sprouts, give them a twist with a spoon to distribute the toppings, and bake for 10 minutes.

Eccola! There’s a pre-Thanksgiving feast worthy of the birthday of the prophet, peace be upon him.

M&M Enterprise Cooking, Vol. XVIII

Ragú Redux

rescued ragù

Ragù. Pride of Emilia-Romagna, the rich, wine-and-broth simmered stuff which is indescribably comforting on a cold, foggy day in the Valpadana. And of course, a testament to its inherent goodness is its bastardization worldwide as “meat sauce” or, in an attempt to put an “authentic” spin on it, “bolognese sauce,” or, even worse, “salsa bolognese,” which is simply wrong since a salsa in Italian is something entirely different. But I don’t begrudge the triers — if I did, I won’t be able to write this post, or eat as well as I have, twice lately.

On “Italian nights” the dining facility (DFAC) makes, of course, “meat sauce” — seems like alloro (bay leaf) and erba cipollina (chives) are key ingredients, based off of sight alone (I haven’t tasted it in its “unimproved” form). What I’ve done is ask for a heaping helping of the stuff which I then freeze and re-do in an appropriately Bolognese way. (It’s hard to get fresh ground beef out here.) I’ve been happily surprised both times.

NB: In our household in Italy, we use mamma’s (and hence her mamma’s) time-honored recipe, which is a little different than the classic ragù bolognese, and it’s on that traditional dish that this recipe is based. As I said before, Veneto Sud has the advantage of being sometimes like Emilia-Romagna, sometimes like Veneto. Best of both worlds.

First, thaw the sub-standard ragù the night before.

Make a soffritto of butter (thanks to the Italian PX, I have butter from Udine), EVOO, and finely diced celery, carrots and onions. (Celery and carrots nabbed from the salad bar at the DFAC, onions bought for me on the economy.)

After the vegetables have softened a bit, add the sub-standard ragù. (In a normal recipe one would add the ground beef and/or veal/pork at this point and brown it.) Mix well, careful not to let it burn since it’s already cooked.

Add some white wine and let it evaporate. This is crucial.

Add nutmeg (Indian stuff, sourced from Amazon — coals-to-Newcastle irony not lost on me) and rosemary.

Add a couple cups of beef broth. I had pre-fab gelatinous cubes from the Italian PX which I added to boiled water, although I’m expecting some “Better than Bouillon” beef base soon.

Turn up the heat a bit (depending on one’s timeframe — I had an afternoon meeting so couldn’t let it simmer for hours) and let the broth boil off. Pay attention to sticking and burning potential.

In the meantime, one should be boiling water, salting it liberally, and putting in some tagliatelle which are the only acceptable kind of pasta to eat with this dish. (Unless one is making lasagne, and one could make an exception for real tortellini bolognese, but one should never add southern pasta forms like bucatini and absolutely no spaghetti, please, never, no.) They should be made with egg. They’ll likely be ready in under five minutes.

Once the sauce is relatively dry, mamma taught us to add a lot of grana padano or parmigiano-reggiano and stir it in. (One can, and should, grate some over the complete dish later.)

Toss the pasta well with the ragù (eliminating this step is also not an option.)

Add more cheese and eccola, one has oneself a meal that at least begins to resemble what’s on Sunday plates all over Emilia-Romagna and Veneto Sud. It might even come close to Trattoria Annamaria on via Belle Arti, one of my favorites spots for cucina bolognese.

And thus plain old dining hall “meat sauce” was reborn, made anew and rescued. One may note that I didn’t add any extra tomato — the pre-made stuff already had enough, and one characteristic is that real ragú usually has nothing more than a nominal dash of tomato paste.

There was a chili cookoff today, and I felt slightly guilty for not going as friends of mine were competing, but I took solace in the fact that ragù is like chili in a couple of ways — beyond both being simmered meat dishes, everyone’s mom has a recipe, and everyone’s mom makes the best version of it.

Here’s how my suocera’s version differs from the traditional one:

No pancetta, chicken livers, mortadella or other salty meaty additive with the soffritto.

White wine, never red.

Grana instead of whole milk at the end.

Thinner passata instead of tomato paste.

Addition of rosemary and nutmeg, which some people have strong opinions about, but I’ve got used to it and quite like it.


M&M Enterprise Cooking, Vol. XVII

Pasta con tapenade e sgombro

Pasta con tapenade e sgombro

It was “Italian night” at the dining facility the other night so I picked up a vat of black olive tapenade, thinking I’d do something with it later, despite the fact that tapenade is a Provençal, not Italian dish, but why not? Surely there is some kind of Mediterranean goodness there to unpack.

I uncovered a recipe at Giallo Zafferano that somehow had all easily-obtainable ingredients — canned sgombro (mackerel), hot peppers, EVOO, garlic, white wine and parsley. As it ended up, I completely forgot a dash of frozen parsley, but with a bit of lemon zest, it was excellent anyway. As usual, high-quality Granoro spaghetti, mackerel and EVOO from the Italian PX made this dish better. If you’re dealing with pre-fab tapenade then this dish is even easier.

Not Espinaler… but maybe comes close?


Put on water for the spaghetti to boil in. When it comes to a boil, liberally salt it. When it re-boils, put in your spaghetti. While this is going on you can prepare the condimento.

Heat up some EVOO in one pan, toss in a garlic clove. While that’s heating, cube your mackerel. Toss it in once the garlic is browned. (Warning: it will splatter and pop, so adjust the heat accordingly, or pull the pan off the heat when you put in the fish.) Let the mackerel brown. Add salt and black pepper as you like, don’t forget the parsley, and then a dash of wine. Let the wine cook off and then take it off the heat.

two pans are better than one

Use a separate pan to make a soffritto of EVOO and spicy pepper. Giallo Zafferano has a fresh cut one, but I have some pepper spread I made here, so I threw in a teaspoon or two of that. You could probably get away with dried red pepper, too, but those burn very easily, so attenzione.

I was tempted to do all this in one pan, but I find that small details in a lot of Italian cookery — especially the simpler dishes — matter a lot. So just resolve yourself to washing more dishes. Use a big pan, too, because you’ll mix your pasta in this.

When the pasta is almost done, drain it, toss it in the pepper/EVOO soffritto, mix in the tapenade, and once it’s well-mixed, add your mackerel soffritto. For an extra touch of civility, take out the garlic clove at this point — its work in seasoning your soffritto is done.

Mix the whole thing well. At this point you can very finely grate some lemon peel over it.

Eccola, there’s your spaghetti con tapenade e sgombro.

One word of warning — either lower the heat on the pepper/EVOO pan or work very quickly. You don’t want the pasta to get too dry or fried-seeming.

If you can read Italian, don’t miss Giallo Zafferano’s evocative write up of Provence.  If you can’t, a rough translation follows:

Picturesque landscapes, sunny coasts and the blue sea: these are some of the characteristics of Provence, a land famous not only for its endless lavender fields but also for its centuries-old olive trees. We were inspired by the landscapes of this French province to compose this tasty first course.

“San Martino, ogni mosto diventa vino”

Po Valley November fog

Republishing this for the 103rd anniversary of Armistice Day —

It’s not only the 100th anniversary of Armistice, now Veterans, Day, it’s also San Martino, an autumnal feast day in Italy that celebrates not only the fourth-century patron saint of beggars, but also the maturation of new wines. The great Giosuè Carducci also wrote a poem describing a typical foggy fall day around this time of the year in northern Italy, which deserves quoting in full and in the original.

San Martino

La nebbia a gl’irti colli
piovigginando sale,
e sotto il maestrale
urla e biancheggia il mar;

ma per le vie del borgo
dal ribollir de’ tini
va l’aspro odor de i vini
l’anime a rallegrar.

Gira su’ ceppi accesi
lo spiedo scoppiettando:
sta il cacciator fischiando
su l’uscio a rimirar

tra le rossastre nubi
stormi d’uccelli neri,
com’esuli pensieri,
nel vespero migrar.

[click on the title for a serviceable translation]

no steep hills, but plenty of steep argine in Veneto Sud

Carducci moved to Bologna at age 25, where he surely became acquainted with the pervasive northern Italian nebbia, which gets more intense the closer one goes to the Po.

While there, he lived on via Broccaindoso, where, it bears mentioning, there is a pretty decent osteria, if you’re in the neighborhood.

With thanks to SE for reminding me of all of this, and for introducing me to his poetry. 

M&M Enterprise Cooking, Vol. XVI

not bad for being landlocked

Two dishes today. One is a variation on the previously-posted risotto-in-a-bag dish. It was “Mexican night” at the cafeteria Wednesday and I was generously given by the server a large quantity of cooked shrimp, presumably for use in shrimp tacos. Having lived not too far from the Sea of Cortez recently, I can’t imagine why anyone would turn down a shrimp taco, but it suited my purposes well. Not a lot to write about in terms of cooking.

Pasta gorgonzola e noci, November 11

What better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War than with a typically Alpine northern Italian dish? This dish comes not from the old battlegrounds of Caporetto and the Piave but from further west, in Piedmont and of course Lombardy, where one remembers that Gorgonzola has its own stop on the Milan metro. This dish is a sort of variation on that old standby that got my wife and I through our impecunious post-student years.

How to do this one: the cafeteria has passable crumbled bleu cheese daily, so I grabbed a couple of containers of that and a container of shelled walnuts (known in Italian as ghergli di noci). I basically followed this recipe from Giallo Zafferano with a few modifications.

Say ghergli five times fast.
  • Finely diced the nuts, or ghergli thereof.
  • Put on the water to boil, salted it.
  • Substituted a bit of whole milk for cream, let it heat and added the cheese. Let the cheese melt and added pepper and a dash of these herbs de provence (which appear to be mainly thyme). Stirred.
  • Put in the penne (no trofie here).
  • Took pasta out a minute early from water, strained pasta and added it to the mix. Added the finely chopped nuts. Let all the moisture cook off, stirring rapidly to prevent sticking.
  • Stirred well and topped with parmigiano reggiano, pricey ($10) at the PX.
cooking down

It wasn’t gorgonzola, needless to say, but it was passable. Sweeter, stickier, not as creamy, but plenty ok for conflict zone cooking. (A colleague who knows war zones well has corrected my use of the term.)  I used lactose-free milk, which maybe have contributed to the sweetness.


Sometime back, I promised to do a literary lunches series, and mainly failed in that regard. Let me try to amend that almost three years later with a quote from a writer who loved the north of Italy.

—Have you a cheese sandwich?
—Yes, sir.
Like a few olives too if they had them. Italian I prefer. Good glass of burgundy take away that. Lubricate. A nice salad, cool as a cucumber, Tom Kernan can dress. Puts gusto into it. Pure olive oil. Milly served me that cutlet with a sprig of parsley. Take one Spanish onion. God made food, the devil the cooks. Devilled crab.
—Wife well?
—Quite well, thanks … A cheese sandwich, then. Gorgonzola, have you?
—Yes, sir.

Keeping in mind that nothing in any work by this author is an accident, let’s consult his pre-eminent biographer for a gloss of what this meal means.

“Besides serving as a parable that life breeds corruption, Gorgonzola is probably chosen also because of Dante’s adventures with the Gorgon in the Inferno IX. Bloom masters the monster by digesting her.”

Reference here.

Next up: Brussels sprouts with bleu cheese, nuts, clarified butter and bread crumbs.

M&M Enterprise Cooking, Vol. XV

risotto al limone e gamberetti

Risotto al limone e gamberetti

Since I’ve been recovering from a mild illness, or busy, or both, war zone cooking has been limited to soups, which probably deserve their own write up, especially as I’ve been experimenting with way to allungare them, often transforming them into hearty, often porky, and thus wholly un-Italian dishes.

But today’s post features shrimp risotto 1400 km from the nearest port. It is possible, with a couple of major shortcuts. Remember: war zone rules.

It seems like many versions of pasta with seafood — spaghetti allo scoglio, con le vongole, alle cozze — have made their way to our shores, but seafood risotto, a favorite of the northeast, hasn’t quite caught on. Perhaps because it’s hard to make — one really should use a broth obtained from boiling all the shellfish.

But here’s a version that one can make in a war zone, thanks mainly (this time) to the Knorr company. I’ll do better next time. I note that Better than Bouillon does a fish stock on Amazon.

made possible by Knorr

Being sort of an impulse dish, this came mainly from the Knorr “gamberetti” ready-to-eat risotto pack which got my attention at the Italian PX. It’s easy: simply immerse in cold water, bring to a boil, let cook for 15 minutes, and eccolo. That seemed too easy, like cheating. Here’s where it gets creative.

I had a pack of my standby Thai frozen shrimp (Italian-branded) in the fridge. It was a foregone conclusion that I’d use them, but just thawing them and throwing them in at the end seemed too boring.

So, in a large, flat pan I made a soffritto of a garlic clove and some preserved local green peppers I cooked down before my leave, cooking it on low heat so the oil soaked up all the flavors, threw in the thawed shrimp, and then added a dash of this California chardonnay (suitable only for cooking). The timing was tricky, and I dreaded the shrimp getting rubbery. The risotto wasn’t quite all’onda (a term that I’ve seen in numerous Milanese cooking blogs, but that my thoroughly northern wife claims she’s never heard), so I poured it into the pan with the risotto and let the extra liquid boil off.

I added some organic Italian EVOO instead of butter, some frozen Italian parsley and the juice from a fresh lemon wedge. The result was not bad, considering the whole 1400-km-from-the-coast thing. Constant stirring meant I got all the excess liquid off and nothing burned, and the shrimp maintained their texture.

I have one more of these Knorr packets — the next one an alla pescatora with shrimp, squid and clam. Since I’m highly dubious about how well those critters can be dehydrated and reconstituted, let’s hope that the PX has one last packet of frozen shrimp. Technically, today’s were more gamberoni. The one I spied in the freeze were certainly gamberini. Stay tuned.

**Update — one Italian PX only had some very dubious looking Scottish-origin scampi. There’s still one more option, but it’ll have to wait.