Tag Archives: garlic

A Summer Take on Italy Most Classic Garlic Dish

Aglio, Olio and Pommodorini

Aglio, olio e pepperoncino (garlic, olive oil and hot pepper) is one of the most sincere and dangerous pasta dishes. Dangerous because so many people shy away from garlic and even I shy away from the hottest of the hot stuff. But also perilous because in its simplicity to make and to devour, a plate of spaghetti doused with these two ingredients lightly simmered in olive oil can tempt more than more complex and expensive pastas.

Simmering Aglio Olio and Pepperoncino

I’m always hesitant to mess with near perfection, but in the summer there’s always another ingredient laying there, calling to you. The heat makes risk taking just that much easier.

Slow-baked tomatoes ready to jump

My friend Fabrizio C was playing with fire a few days ago (and only our tongues got slightly singed). Piccadilly and datterini tomatoes had come into their own on the Abruzzo coast when he invited a dozen friends over to his terrace for dinner. His twist was adding slow-baking breaded piccadilly cherry tomatoes (to dry them out a bit) at the end off the garlic, hot pepper and oil process.

Mixing it up

Slowly baking (about 45 minutes) and breading tomatoes dried them out while keeping just the right amount of juice and sweetness in to keep them slightly chewy but not as much as the al dente durum wheat pasta in which they were hiding.

Friends, tomatos and pepperoncino

This being summer we followed up with local vegetables – roast sweet peppers and above all some of the last great fresh fava beans of the Summer (to be eaten right out of the pod and accompanied by good pecorino cheese) as we washed it all down with some of this years Pecorino white and rich Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosè wines from the valleys between Pescara and Sulmona. The wine kept our conversation and appetite for summer dinners growing well into the night.

Friends, tomatos and pepperoncino

For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com


Aglio, olio and pomodorini

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Want to try making aglio olio and peperoncino and don’t want to look for it on the web? My first and favourite guide is “The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating” by Marcella Hazan. My hitchiker’s guide to Italian food.

Roast peppers

Also my friend Eleonor’s blog http://www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com/ is inspired.

Garlic on FoodistaGarlic

Artichokes are Spring

Fried, pickled, in salad or alla romana, artichokes are irresistable however they are prepared

Artichoke alla Romana! (Da Oio A Casa Mia - Testaccio)

I’ve always loved artichokes – even when I was a picky eater, who shunned vegetables, despised “wet meat” and was convinced that cookies tasted worse when they were broken. Artichokes were one of the few typically Italian foods we ate in a very un-Italian way. My mom rinsed them, cut off all but a few inches of the stalks, and boiled them in water with a couple of cloves of garlic and some lemon slices, until the stalks were tender. Then, we would strip off each leaf, dipping it into melted butter, or, if I was really lucky, a sauce made from mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice and dill, before scraping off the tender pulp with our teeth. It was a vegetarian equivalent to oysters on the half shell.

I’ve never seen anyone dip veggies in melted butter in Italy, although food traditions are so varied here in the dairy lands in the North of the Boot, someone might be doing it. And, dill (“aneto”) was impossible to find here until just a few years ago. I presume that the influx of people from Eastern Europe must be changing this. Come to think of it, the lack of dill must also explain why those wonderful, king-sized pickles they sold at Italian markets in the US when I was young can’t be found in Italy.

In Rome, artichokes are king. They are everywhere, especially in spring. Carciofi alla Giudea – entire deep-fried artichokes most famous in the Ghetto, and in Trastevere, but popular everywhere are among my favorite. They sure know how to use a deep-fryer in the Eternal City! Linda, my mother-in-law has a talent for artichoke wedges fried in her special batter. They are a mainstay at our Easter Monday picnics. Silvia simmers artichokes, chopped up and mixed in with potatoes, for hours. And, diced pickled artichoke can make the difference between a tuna salad sandwich and an elegant carciofo e tonno tramezzino.

If you want to capture the essence of artichokes in Rome – or anywhere, for that matter– try one of the many variations on “carciofi alla romana”. There are many recipes out there – even my friends in L’Aquila have slightly different ways of preparing them. So, once again, I’m turning to Marcella Hazan, whose cookbook The Classic Italian Cook Book, first published in the early seventies, saved my culinary life when I moved to Italy in 1989 – and many times afterwards. The following recipe – reprinted by Elaine of  “The Italian Dish” (http://italiandish.squarespace.com), one of the best Italian food blogs I’ve ever seen – is simple in both ingredients and description. I strongly suggest reading Elaine’s article before trying it. In part because she wrote a wonderful introduction to Marcella Hazan and how these artichokes were part of the perfect Roman lunch, but mostly because the photos she has included make it almost impossible to mess anything up.

Roman Style Artichokes – 4 servings

  • 4 large globe artichokes with stems attached
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Bend back and snap off tough outer leaves from artichokes, pulling off enough leaves until you expose the central part of the artichoke with whiter leaves at the base.  Slice off tops and then squeeze some lemon juice over the cut parts, so they don’t turn so brown.  Using a paring knife, cut out the hairy choke inside the artichoke.  Trim the sides of the artichokes of any tough green parts.  Trim the end off stem and then, using the knife, trim the tough green outer part of the stem.  Rub with lemon.

In a bowl, combine the parsley, mint, garlic and salt and pepper.  Rub the mixture into the artichokes and over the outsides of the artichokes.  Set the artichokes, topside down with stems facing up, into a pot with a lid.  Add oil and enough water to come one third up the sides of the leaves (not the stems).

Cook over medium heat until artichokes are tender, 35 to 40 minutes.  Transfer artichokes, stems up, to a serving platter, reserving juices.  .  Let cool to warm or room temperature.  To serve, drizzle the pan juices over artichokes.”

The article and the crisp photos that walk you through it all can be found here:


In the end, carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichokes) are easier done than said. Most classic Italian food is much easier than you would expect; the hard part is finding the best ingredients outside of Italy.

Carciofi alla romana can be served both warm or at room temperature, as a contorno (vegetable dish) or as an antipasto.

– Joshua Lawrence

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Artichoke on FoodistaArtichoke

Happy as Clams

Before the quake we had a regular carbonara date with a group of friends. We shared the same row of season tickets for the Thursday night comedy theatre series at San Filippo, a deconsecrated downtown. Afterward we would all walk over to Rita and Massimo’s for carbonara and a few more laughs.

Spaghetti with clams

The theatre is off limits, like most of downtown, although it is trying to keep producing and bringing in shows whenever they can. The same goes for the buildings most of us lived in – and we are spread out from the outskirts of L’Aquila to Pescara. But spaghetti is the ultimate Italian comfort food and friendship can resist even crumbling walls.  But even though it is a chilly winter here on the coast, spaghetti with clams seemed more appropriate. (And other forms of seafood stood in for cabaret.)

There are lots of recipes for spaghetti with white clam sauce. If I was following one, it would always be Marcella Hazan’s. But we usually don’t follow the rules in these nights out. But the basic gist of most ricette is this:

– soak a half pound of small clams in a basin of salty water a few hours before, changing the water every half hour or so to clean them and purge them of sand

– seer a clove or two of sliced garlic in a few big spoons of olive oil in a skillet large enough to host the pasta you’ll be adding.

– add a half cup of white wine and slide in the small clean clams in their shells and simmer covered as you like. Add if you want: diced parsley or diced basil, chopped cherry tomatoes, and/ slices of fresh hot peppers. It’s all up to you. Cover and simmer until the clams open.

– cook the spaghetti al dente, slide the pasta into the skillet with the clams, salt, mix and serve to smiles.

What is this? Spaghetti con le vongole?

Of course there are more precise ways to do this, and you can also shell the clams after cooking for guests that don’t want to spend dinner eating the clams by hand – but that’s at times just what children and raucous dinner guest enjoy. And the constant tinkering of clam shells raining into spare bowls can be as uplifting as a glass of good Prosecco sparkling white wine.

I wonder if this is how we got the saying “happy as a clam”.

We were.

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Why Dracula can’t cook

Garlic, like anchovies and raw onions, gets a bad rap. Just because it’s smelly or fishy or salty and stays on your breath doesn’t mean it’s not scrumptious.
Peanut butter eaters shouldn’t throw stones.
Even here in Italy, a land famous for garlic and anchovy eating, these wonderful foods have their detractors. I think the detractors are clueless.
Forget about the proven health benefits of garlic for the heart and the immune system. They are part of why garlic is good, but only a small part. It’s because they are heaven.
My first garlic epiphany is still a fond memory today. My mother had just ordered a plate of baked garlic cloves with our hamburgers and steak sandwiches in a basement bar in what little was left of the Italian-Irish neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin.
I loved it.
And the bad breath? It’s only bad if you don’t like it (poor unknowing fools) and have not also eaten garlic in the same meal. The important thing is that you eat garlic together, then none of those involved will care.
I still remember a meal I cooked for my friends Erin and Bill when I first came back to Madison from Bologna in 1990. Oven-toasted rosemary potatoes, grilled sirloin with oregano and black pepper, and truffled champignon mushrooms.
Truffled mushrooms are as simple as it magical. Clean, dry and slice the mushrooms and get them ready. It’s going to be fast. Peel and crush a few cloves of garlic and get them ready. Get some good Italian olive oil up to frying temperature. Throw the garlic and turn the heat down low just before the garlic fragments turn crunchy and golden. Then slide the mushrooms and cook until they are soft, grey and have absorbed the garlic and the oil.
I like them straight up as a side dish, but they are great as an appetizer on toasted bread (with or without melted provolone cheese).
What made the dinner with Erin and Bill so memorable? The moment I tossed in the garlic in the yellow tuscan oil (yes, even back then you could find it in Madison) a mushroom cloud of garlic steam burst up and filled the studio apartment. I looked back and saw them both, noses up in the air and huge silly grins like dancing Peanuts characters in It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas.
They say blood is thicker than water, but garlic bonds.
To all my garlic brothers and sisters.


Rosemarino in the garden.