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Posts Tagged ‘roving locavore’

Meatballs are comfort food, but they can also form the center of a sumptuous meal. Luxury and refinement meet in the meatball when it is handled with care, swaddled in a blanched leaf, braised in aromatic broth, and served in a white dish. Making these fragrant pork meatballs, delicate and gigantic at once, teaches you to handle them like egg yolks. The flavors in Lion’s Head meatballs are tame as well, in spite of their ferocious name. Ginger and warm spice, green onion, a touch of salt.

My first encounter with this traditional Shanghai dish was in the now closed, but fondly remembered Fountain Court, in the Richmond district of San Francisco. Peter and I lived up the hill to the east, just past the fog line, in a one-bedroom with a sliver ocean view. We would make a long evening of it with our poet friend, starting at the Plough and Stars —empty except for us at 6:00. After getting into the groove of our usual hilarity, we’d amble down to Green Apple Books with its countless rooms of used books and music. Soon overwhelmed by the poetry, theory, novels, history, and philosophy I wanted to read, I’d find myself in cookbooks, flipping through recipes and pictures. Finally, we’d find each other and continue down Clement St. to the Fountain Court, where our friend was greeted like a long lost puppy by the owner.

Because it was so good, so particular to that place and time, so perfectly accompanied by sweet roasted eggplants and a platter full of sauteed pea greens, I didn’t consider trying to make this meal for years. A decade, even. But meatballs are simple, aren’t they? They like to be cuddled and coddled like babies, and it’s hard to go wrong.

So, I rounded up a recipe on Epicurious (not very scholarly, I know) and used it as an outline for my own composition, which included a dash of five spice powder—whether authentic or not.

Here are the sweet morsels browning:

Here are two beautiful Japanese eggplants:

Here are the browned meatballs wrapped in blanched Savoy cabbage (the store was out of Napa):

They simmered on the stove for an hour or so, becoming more tender than you can imagine meat to be.

*          *          *

And, to follow up on other culinary adventures in my household… here’s Lizzie enjoying some butternut squash spinach puree I whipped up for her:

And here’s the delicious pot of mayonnaise I whisked up last week, which makes the perfect condiment for just about everything!

Believe it or not, I made it the day before Melissa Clark published this mayonnaise recipe in the NYT Dining section. Must have been some kind of seasonal urge. Now, I’m a total amateur, although I did work for a moment in a restaurant kitchen where they had me prepare the béarnaise, so I know a tidbit about whisking. That said, I was really surprised that she didn’t know about the drops of water… In any case, homemade mayonnaise is worth every second of wrist ache it takes to make it.

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Today was the first day that really felt like fall. It was in the 50s when we ventured outside this morning to water the plants, and the clouds overhead were rushing by. Because of these early signs, I got it into my head that apple picking would be the perfect thing to do. It’s a little early, but there are some varieties ripening or ripe by now.

In the early afternoon, we made our way through the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN. We had read online that kids who colored in a printable map of the farm would get a free cider doughnut, so Jack had come prepared with a diligently colored map. When we got there, we went first to the Apple Barn and where he was given his free doughnut. I have a special nostalgia-enhanced weakness for cider doughnuts, so I had to get one, too. (The last time I was pregnant, with Jack, we lived in Berkeley, CA, and I had my mom overnight me some cider doughnuts when the season rolled around.)

Then we went picking. Because it’s only September 3rd, we were too early for Macintosh or Honeycrisp. We were limited to Paula Reds, but that was fine with us. It was just the experience we were after, and a serviceable apple for crisp.

For dinner tonight on this cool evening, we had a perfect peasant meal. I made a rustic frittata with thinly sliced potatoes and onions and two sprigs of thyme, and, of course, an apple dessert.

Apple Crumble (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)

Filling:
3 lbs. apples (I used 8 Paula Reds)
1/4 c. rum or apple cider (I used lemonade)
2 tbs. butter, melted
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Filling: Peel, core, and cube the apples. Stir together with other filling ingredients. Spoon apple mixture into a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Topping: Stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Chop up the butter and blend it in with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until it’s bubbly and a deep, golden brown.

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My dissertation, that is, is done.  Sadly, so is our packing.

We’ve been saying goodbyes to good good friends here in Rome, and will leave on Thursday.  It’s an anticipated sadness and loss, so it’s one that ebbs and flows, comes and goes at unexpected moments.  Life goes on, too, as do the food and wine discoveries. Why did it take 9 months for me to learn about this vino vivace I’m sipping right now?  Monsupello, an off-white slightly fizzy wine made with Pinot Nero grapes (skins taken out), from the Pavia region in the north of Italy.  The reason I didn’t know about it sooner is that Jeannie and Valeria, friends and moms of Jack’s friends, discovered it at our local enoteca—wine shop—and bought it all up.  But with the new season, new caseloads have come in, and we’re all drinking it.  I had it first on Jeannie’s balcony in Trastevere while Jack and Nico “went fishing” with coat hangers over the edge.  Then I had it two nights later at Valeria & Andreas’ apartment.  Two Roman veterinarians, they told us about their dreams of opening a restaurant in London or Berlin that serves good basic Roman cuisine.

Late, too, I found out about Necci, a wonderful little cafe that does everything from breakfast pastries to toy-swaps for the kids with aperitivi for the parents.  Jeannie, Sarah, and I went to Pigneto, a Roman neighborhood outside of the city center, last week, on a mission to taste the artisanal cornetti (Italian croissants).  The chef, a British guy named Ben, is one of those admirable chefs who uses only local and seasonal ingredients and who is reviving old ways of making things.  Jeannie and I had chocolate cornetti and agreed that they were the best we’d tasted in years.  Light crunch to the pastry flakes—dark, warm chocolate within.

Necci is a fun place with great deck seating, kid-friendliness, a sense of humor, and delicious food.  Some pictures.

Jeannie & Sarah

banana flush pull

After a long, leisurely hour and two cappuccini at Necci, we walked down a central neighborhood street that has an open air market during the morning.  I bought a melon, a bagful of cherries, and susine plums.

Then we wandered with our fruit-heavy bags back to Sarah’s car, stopping in little shops along the way.  One of them was a funky second-hand store, with everything from a vintage Singer sewing machine—from the 1910s—to Pokemon cards.  Now, if I had known then what I know now, I would have bought a huge handful of those cards.  For the past few days of goodbyes Jack has been cathecting all of his mixed emotions onto his carte di Pokemon.  I buy a pack for him (and they’re exploitatively expensive!) and he gives them all away as regali.  Or his more cunning friends convince him to trade 4 for 1.  I tell him I won’t buy him anymore, and he cries and says he doesn’t want to go to school or see his friends again.  I say, “I know you’re sad that we’re leaving. Let’s talk about what you like about Rome” and he’ll say, “I like the buses and the carte di Pokemon.”  It’s been a sad time for him, because he’s had such a wonderful year.  He learned Italian and finally feels comfortable with his Italian friends and teachers. He loves his school.  He loves life here at the Academy where there are always friends available right next door. So he channels his emotions into the things he can grasp at and consume until we go away (friends are too complicated for these operations): Gormiti (little Italian elemental action figures), Pokemon cards (which, he doesn’t know, are everywhere), and ciambellini (the mini doughnuts they make at the Kosher cafe we stop in almost every morning before school).  We all do it.  I’m drinking more coffee because I know I won’t taste coffee like this in the New World.  I’m putting one more slice of mozzarella on my plate because it might be my last for years. I’m getting a cup of pistachio gelato even if Jack doesn’t want any.  We’re trying to squeeze in one more coffee-date, playdate, late-night conversation with the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  And I’m trying to drink in the views and sounds of Rome so that I won’t forget any of it, so that it won’t become muted and hazy when we get back to “real life.”

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Dear Readers,

Thanks for sticking with me in my absence. I’ve been busy finishing my dissertation, and am finally down to proofreading, formatting, and double-checking footnotes.  I’ve also been eating well, and enjoying as much time as possible with our good friends here during our last weeks in Rome.  And I’ve been having fun with this little guy, who had a wonderful year at the amazing Scuola Arcobaleno making countless kinds of art, learning to play the violin and piano, running in his first track meet, and, most importantly of all, speaking Italian so well that he corrects his parents’ pronunciation and grammar.

I’ll return to blogging in a few weeks….

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Not a mis-spelling of burrito, no.  Something much, much better.  Exquisite, even.

While I sit here waiting for my Byron chapter to print out, I find my mind drifting back to dinner last night with Tess and Jessie (interns at the Rome Sustainable Food Project and co-producer—that’s Tess—of the must-see Food Inc.) and David (a documentary filmmaker and husband of Jessie), at a tiny table in a teeny apartment in Trastevere, where, while we sat around the burrata like worshipers at a sacred font, Jack jumped on the bed in the other room.

http://danamccauley.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/burrata.jpeg?w=325&h=251

Oh, my!  This is how burrata, a soft, fresh mozzarella with liquefying cream in the middle, looks at the store.  When you take it home to serve, our Italian associates in food-loving tell us, you put it in a bowl, pour a bit of your best extra virgin olive oil over it, slice it with a spoon, and eat it—preferably with a spoon.

Burrata is my new love.  It’s better than gelato.

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We’re in Florence.  Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday we went to the famous gelateria Vivoli.  I know I should have tried the cinnamon-orange, but I can’t give up an opportunity to savor one of the nutty flavors I love so much.  Yesterday I went for the classic nocciolo—hazelnut.  Jack had a puckering cup of limone mixed with fragola (strawberry, but the word always reminds me of “Fraggle Rock”).  Jack also got a big kick out of the address of the gelateria, in Isola delle Stinche.  Stinky—ha ha ha! (He’s just about five, so that’s the height of humor.)

Last night we took a chance on a restaurant, and it turned out to be an enjoyable meal.  The highlights were the antipasto dish of fagioli con bottarga, and the Florentine steak, which my mom, Peter, and I all ordered.  It was rubbed with rosemary, grilled rare, sliced thin, and served on a bed of arugula. Perfect.

Pictures will come….

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It was actually pretty chilly, and the sky was gray, but the fruit trees are blooming, the kids are antsy, and everyone just wanted to hang around in the big back garden yesterday.  The grill was going from 11 to 7.

There were pork sausages of all kinds, veal chops, pork chops, lamb shoulder, lamb leg…. Most of us ate bites right off the grill, with our fingers. Yes, it was greasy and brutish and washed down with plenty of beer and 3-Euro wine.  I brought a salad of romaine, treviso, pears, fennel, and walnuts.  No one ate it. Some of the foods were local and artisanal. Others were, well, hot dogs and cream-in-a-can.

We played ping pong, bocce, kickball, and frisbee.

For more pictures, go to my Flickr page.

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