April 25, 2011

Squash Soup with Cumin

pumpkin and cumin soup

Yesterday we ate, we enjoyed people company, we indulged in tempting sweet treats and chocolate delights. 

Today, the sky is still a little gray, the temperature still not so spring-like, and I have a cold. 

All I want is soup. I made this soup with the last winter squash I had in the kitchen. It was a butternut squash, good for soups or risotto. I really enjoyed the spiced flavor of cumin and the perfect marriage with the sweetness of the squash. 

Conforting, warm, light and good. Just for those who don't go out on Monday after Easter. This recipe is for you.

Spring, I am so ready for you to warm up my system. 

Squash Soup with Cumin
serves 4 
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
1l vegetagle stock
1 small yellow onion, chooped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

In a large pot, cook the onion in the olive oil til translucent. Add the squash and cook at medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring to avoid sticking at the bottom. Add boiling vegetable stock until the squash is completely covered. 

Allow to cook covered for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste the consistence of the squash, and if tender, remove from heat. Stir in salt and cumin. Blend with immersion blender til it's creamy. Add more liquid if needed, depending on how creamy VS. liquid you want your soup. Serve hot in bowls with toasted bread.

April 20, 2011

Brunch in Boston

Boston, skyline
Beacon st.

"Hey, do you have any tips on how to eat and drink in Boston?"
Luckly, everybody we asked had at least a couple. Many coincided, many others didn't. Again, as in Portland, we had less than three days and a limited amount of meals.

I wanted brunch. That was my first point on the list. I got a few recommendations for a place in Sommerville (where our host lives) that revealed pretty good indeed. The won various awards as best pancakes in Boston. But we ended up going just for breakfast on Monday mornign. Of course, I tried their triple-berry pancakes --huge and fluffy as they should be. Plus a huge bowl of fresh fruit on the side and coffee free refill. "Really?", I said. Yes, really. I always sound so naive when it comes eating out in the US. I'm always so surprised by everything, so embarrassed at times, so shy when it comes ordering from a menu, or asking for something, or remebering to tip.

Brunch, we said. Sunday morning, late morning, to be honest. We woke up in a state of body heat and clumsiness. The night before had been happily filled with local microbreweries' excellence and multicultural conversation around food. Of course. Of course good beer, of course food talk, of course multicultural. That's what I love, that's what is exiting about what I studied, what I am doing and will hopefully do after this crazy, inspiring and lucky year of eating, drinking and traveling. The morning after these moments of pure joy are always a bit tough, but c'est la vie --c'est ma vie, thanks God!

nature in Beacon st.
shoes as vases on Beacon st.

Coffee, water. "Where shall we go for brunch?", I asked, interrupting J.'s daydreaming. "Dunnooo...Wherever, it doesn't matter to me" was likely to be the diplomatic answer. He is so diplomatic. The night before, I grabbed the name of a place that our host Fausto's girlfriend mentioned as being the best place in Boston for Sunday brunch at affordable prices. Sure enough, it is pretty popular and the wait line is always quite long, she said. But we HAD to go. The only thing I could remember was it started with a P. after a few research on google, we found it. Paramount.  OK, we are going. My first brunch ever was happening in a couple hours. I was exited --and hungry.

brick houses, Bacon Hill, Boston
brick houses, Bacon Hill, Boston

The Paramount is in the middle of fancy and elegant Charles Street in Beacon Hill. Walking through antique and vintage clothes shops, glancing at the red brick houses in the crossing alleys, we arrived to destination and started to queue without saying a word --everything was exactly as we expected. We read the menu placed outside the door to torture and tempt customers and we started to compose the ideal meal in our mind. Omelet or sandwich? Or maybe a french toast? No, my first brunch had to have eggs. And not being a fan of mixing sweet and salty --my Italian origin prevent me from fully enjoying a feast of pancakes and breakfast burritos at the same time-- I gave up the "why not both?" option. No, omelet it is. With spinach, feta and basil, sided by cubic, soft and golden home made potatoes. Plates fluctuating in the air to avoid heads gave  us a visual demonstration of what to expect. It was comforting --all looked so good. It was hard --I rethought my options multiple times by the time I ordered. In the end, I got back to my first instinct. It's always the best. 

We ordered. In two minutes, we received our food on the trays, we moved on, paid and sat down. No table service here. You wait, you order at the counter, see your food being cooked, get it, and then sit and eat it. They say it works for that tiny little place always packed with people. You don't wait for a table, you wait for food, and by the time you get it, there is surely be an empty table for you to eat it fresh and steamy.

I looked around and saw a perfect family with beautiful parents and consequently beautiful children, all casually dressed but with details revealing their wealth, sharing a plate of pancakes and confidentially staling bits and bites from each others' plates. I saw a couple of Italian-American friends chatting in front of a huge waffle buried under a mountain of fresh fruit. I faced my omelet, contemplating it for a second, than attacking it with enthusiasm. I felt foreign and local at the same time. That place, with its mix and match of people from different backgrounds, different social levels, different cultures, was giving food to everybody, making their Sunday morning a bit special every week.

Boston loves magnolias
magnolia at Boston Common

Everybody waits, on Sunday morning at Paramount, all eat the same good food at fair prices, everybody enjoys it. I love places where you get a sense of food as a shared experience. My first brunch was a shared experience. Here, for the first time out of Vermont and in this trip in the US, I felt the conviviality of home meals.

sakura @ Boston Common
Harvard yard, Saturday afternoon

We walked around all day in that beautiful neighborhood, enjoying shops, buildings, blooming magnolias and the park. Spring is coming. 


April 13, 2011

Lentil Burgers with Pita Bread and Spiced Yogurt Sauce

lentil burgers

I've never been a big meat eater. No, not even cured meat. Yes, I'm Italian. Probably, I'm a bit strange. 

I found out that what I am is called flexitarian. I think I found out about it reading Rolling Stone, or maybe Bon Apetit, I don't remember. Sometimes it's just nice to find somebody or something --a book, your mum, the little kid at the beach-- that tells you what you are. I mean, it's so hard to define ourselves, so why refusing a little help or some suggestions? 

I accepted the magazine suggestion and decided that yes, that's exactly what I am --the description is more than fitting: I am a flexitarian. The kind of eater that enjoys some roasted chicken or some lamb tagine from time to time, but that can totally survive without meat and feel absolutely happy with grains and starches, seeds, legumes, fish, some eggs and some dairy from time to time. Pizza more than steak, rice salad more than cheeseburger, fish soup more than pasta al ragù (did I tell you that I don't particularly love meat sauce? Well, now I did).

What happened is that I wanted something that felt like street food, something to bite into, something like a cheeseburger. But I didn't want meat, nor the burger bun -- being used to the rustic Italian bread, I don't like the brioche bun very much either. So, well, I made my own vegetarian burger from scratch. Bread and everything. With a perfect meat substitute: lentils. Tasty and pretty darn good for you, too. 

I ended up adding some spices, so it tasted a bit like falafel. And to make it seem like it's a sort of falafel, I made the pita (or pitta?) bread, which is fairly easy to make. Finally, the sauce: a spiced yogurt sauce to soften the compact thexture of the lentil burger.

turmeric and yogurt sauce

Lentil burgers 
(make 8 small-medium size burgers):

- 2 1/2 cups green lentils, cooked 
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 garlic clove, minced
- 1 carrots, pealed and diced
- 1/2 onion, chopped (I used red onion)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp salt
- black pepper, to taste
- 1 T extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a food processor, blend together crumbs, garlic and onion. Add carrot, lentils, oil and spices. When the mixture is well blended, add the egg, blend for 20 more seconds. With wet hands, take parts of the mixture and form small balls, then press them into patties, season both sides with salt and pepper and place them on a baking tray coated with parchment. Bake the burgers for 20 minutes per side, til compact and browned on both sides. Drain on paper towel. 

Pita bread
(makes 4):

- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients all together, than add water. Stir first with a wood spoon, than start kneading with your hands pinching the dough and pushing your fist toward the middle. Continue for about 10 minutes til the dough is smooth and elastic. Divide dough into four equal parts, form small balls and then flatter them til they are about 8 inches in diameter. Let rest on a dusted surface --I used a baking tray--in a warm environment, for 30 minutes.  
Place a skillet on the stove and once hot, start cooking breads once at a time, 7-8 minutes per side, paying attention that they don't burn. 
Let cool slightly on a rack and cut on the edge carefully with a sharp knife before serving. 

Yogurt sauce:

- 3 T greek yogurt
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp curry
- 1/4 tsp turmeric

Mix all ingredients starting with yogurt, then lemon and then spices. Stir and serve.

And finally...Make your sandwich! With 1 pita, 2 lentil burger, a tablespoon of sauce, some greens like lettuce and carrot/cabbage slaw. Vegetarian, delicious, healthy, cheap and all the virtues you can imagine and wish in a sandwich!:)

pita lentil sandwich


Non sono mai stata particolarmente carnivora. No neanche  verso i salumi. Si, sono italiana. Magari un po' atipica.

Ho scoperto di corrispondere al profilo di quelli che chiamano flexitariani. Credo di averlo scoperto leggendo Rolling Stone, o forse Bon Apétit, non mi ricordo. A volte è bello che ci sia qualcuno o qualcosa  (un libro o chessò, la mamma, o il simpatico bambino-tuo-vicino-di-ombrellone) che ti dica quel che sei. Voglio dire, è difficile definire sé stessi, no? Quindi ben vengano definizioni dall'esterno che limitino il campo e creino similitudini --a volte, eh, mica sempre!
Per conto mio, io ho accettato quella della rivista e ho deciso che sì, sono flexitariana, esatto, è proprio quello che sono, la descrizione non potrebbe essere più calzante di così. Sono quel tipo di mangiatore che ogni tanto ama addentare una bella coscia di pollo croccante o fondarsi in un piatto di tahini d'agnello ma che per il resto, ovvero facile facile 28 giorni su 30 o 31, sta benissimo ed è felice senza un grammo di carne. Un po' perché la vita dello studente aiuta ad arrangiarsi con un budget limitato e che induce prevalentemente al carboidratico, un po' perché ci sono poche cose che mi fanno felice come un bel guazzabuglio di cereali, legumi, semi e verdure in forma di zuppa o insalata o stufato e simili. Ogni tanto un po' di latticini (specie a colazione col muesli) o un ovetto, o un pescheto. E morta là. Pizza alla marinara vince su bistecca, insalata di riso vince su hamburger, zuppa vince su pasta al ragù (no, non amo molto il ragù, sì, sono doppiamente strana).
Quel che è successo è che volevo qualcosa che sapesse un po' di steetfood, un bel paninazzo, ma senza hamburger o salsicce o würstel vari, e senza il classico pane molliccio-bianchiccio. Beh, che fare? Mi son fatta il mio panino vegetariano di sana pianta, pane e ripieno. Con un perfetto sostituto della carne (sia come gusto che come proteine): le lenticchie. Buone e sane. Già!

pita bread

Ho fatto il pane pita (o pitta?), veloce e facile da fare. Ho aggiunto delle spezie, così, tanto per dargli un tocco un po' etnico che ricorda un po' il falafel un po' l'indiano. Et voilà, il pranzo vegetariano/veloce/in casa o take away è servito. Cosa manca? Ah, sì, la salsa: che altro se non una salsa allo yogurt speziata? Perfetto! Delizioso, completo, senza peccato e senza pietre. Eh, convinti?

Hamburger di lenticchie (8 medio-piccoli):

- 2 tazze e mezza di lenticchie verdi, cotte
- 1/3 tazza briciole di pane o pangrattato o pane vecchio sbriciolato
- 1/2 spicchio d'aglio
- 1 carota, pulita e tagliata a pezzetti
- 1/2 cipolla, tagliata a pezzetti
- 1 uovo leggermente sbattuto
- 1 cni cumino
- 2 cni semi di coriandolo in polvere
- 2 cni sale
- pepe nero macinato q.b.
- 1 cucchiaio olio evo

Preriscaldate il forno a 180°C. Nel mixer, riducete in briciole il pane col l'aglio e la cipolla. Aggiungete le lenticchie, la carota, l'olio e le spezie. Quando il composto sarà ben frullato, aggiungete l'uovo, Date ancora qualche impulso per amalgamare il tutto. Con le mani leggermente inumidite, formate delle palline e poi appiattitele in forma di hamburger. Salare e pepare da entrambi i lati, posizionare sulla piastra del forno coperta con carta forno e cuocere 20 minuti per lato, fino a che non risultino compatti e si siano dorati bene da entrambi i lati. Trasferire su carta da cucina.

Pane Pita (per 4 pani):

- 2 tazze e 3/4 di farina 00
- 3/4 tazza d'acqua
- 1 bustina di lievito di birra secco
- 1 cucchiaino di sale

In una ciotola, mescolare gli ingredienti secchi, poi aggiungere l'acqua un po' alla volta. Impastare direttamente nella ciotola, prima con un cucchiaio poi con le mani, fino a che il composto non diventa liscio ed omogeneo (10-15 minuti). Dividere l'impasto in 4 parti, appiattite con le mani per dare la forma di un disco di circa 15 cm di diametro. Mettere sulla leccarda del forno infarinata e lasciar riposare, coperti con cellophane, per una mezz'oretta. Una volta pronti, scaldare una padella antiaderente e cuocere i pani uno a uno per circa 7-8 minuti per parte, facendo attenzione a non bruciarli (ridurre la fiamma nel caso). Lasciar intiepidire e poi tagliare con un coltello affilato lungo il bordo a mò di tasca.

spiced yogurt sauce

Salsa allo Yogurt:

- 3 cucchiai di yogurt greco
- 1 cucchiaio di succo di limone
- 2 chi di misto cumino, curcuma, curry

Mescolare tutti gli ingredienti e servire subito.

E finalmente, il panino è pronto! Mettete due polpettone di lenticchie per ciascun pane e aggiungete ciò che vi pare tipo lattuga, carote a filetti, cappuccio a filetti, ed infine la salsa. Tutte le virtù a portata di mano (e di bocca!). Enjoy!


April 6, 2011

Buttermilk Coffee Cake

buttermilk cake

More snow. Or more mud. What do you prefer? Hard to say.
They told us that it wouldn't be the best time to be in Vermont, and I kind of understad why. Spring is far from coming, and I don't see any flour blooming or bird singing to the sun. 

I see my pellet stove lightening the big living room and all I want is sitting in front of it and going through all the cookbooks and food magazines around the Inn. So, I started reading the Better Homes and Gardens' New Cookbook, that I found on the kitchen shelves, and that apparently is a bible book in American homes.

buttermilk cake&tea

April 4, 2011

Portland, ME

Boat from Terrasse

First weekend of many out of little-bubble Vermont, I headed toward Portland, Maine --mecca for lobster lovers and nostalgics of the old continent.

What I discovered, once there, is that Portland is much more than this --it's a paradise for eco-foodies and a very charming place for spending a couple days. Which is just enough time to see and eat what's worth it, and to feel that you would need more time to see, taste, and try what Portland offers. All the worse! --what better excuse to come back?

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