October, 2015: my annual voyage to Italy.

I visited my cugini in Bologna. I really love to spend time with cugina (Italo-Americano) Paul, his beautiful Italian wife Laura, and one of their daughters: the adorable Michelle. The other daughter, Alessandra, is in California right now – attending high school in the Bay Area.

Bologna is, as I mentioned in a prior post, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Pretty much when you think of Italian food, you are really thinking of food from this region: prosciutto, lasagna, tortellini, ragu, etc.

Food in Italy — as in many countries, even the USA — is regional. On this trip, I discovered many foods that, for the most part, haven’t “travelled” to American tables. Like:

Tigella – you can read about these little discs of breadliness in my post – Tigella Paradiso

Garganelli – a quill-shaped egg pasta served in brodo or with ragu. Maybe I have seen this pasta shape before, but I don’t remember. It is the pasta being held in the left hand of my new “friend” from Bagnocavallo:  Signora Maria.

You can read all about my adventures with Sig. Maria on my sister blog, rulingwoman.com. In short, I learned to make this pasta and fully intend to do so when I return to America. 

Giuggiole (JEW-joh-lay) is this fruit that grows on trees around Bologna.  

It looks like a nut. When you bite into it, it has a crunch and taste like an apple, with a pit.  Beautiful. I’d like a sweater in the colors of the giuggiole.  And, finally

Passatelli in brodo. Very VERY regional. My cugini and I went to a restaurant on my last night in Bologna. When the waitress spieled off the dishes for the night, she mentioned Passatelli. My cugina, Laura, was delighted when she heard that, and immediately ordered it. “What is it,” I entreated.  It is a “pasta” made out of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, eggs, lemon and nutmeg that is pushed through a press with holes (extruded almost like spaetzle though not quite). Passare –  passed through. Dropped into a rich, steaming-hot broth. The waitress ladled this brothy, cheesy, doughy bit of wonderfulness into our bowls. Yep, I slurped it right up, I’m sure of it! Luckily, I didn’t have my phone with me, so nothing could stop me from diving right into this sensuous repast. 

In the midst of a vacation filled with (albeit delicious) street and restaurant meals, it is a delight here in Italia to have a good ol’ home-cooked dinner. 

Dinner with the the cugini in Bologna. With typical Emilia-Romagna foods. 

At the bottom – un “panino” of prosciutto and mortadella on a handmade tigella. The tigella (seen in the basket) is yeasty dough placed in a tigelliera — a cooking vessel with two plates of six circles each.  You heat like a grill.  Put a circle of dough in each circle – and press together. Cook, then flip.  Then toss into a basket. Kind of pita meets crumpet. 

Split then fill. Funny, isn’t it, how every ethnic group has some kind of filled bread food. Pita. Taco. Dumpling. 

On the table: carciofi, prosciutto cotto, squacquerone, funghi rustici, salumi culatello, rucola. 

Squisito!

 

 
Before I regale you with my list of food I ate at the great Minnesota Get-Together — I just have to talk about this piglet I met  at the Swine Barn. They do not make a cute alert LARGE enough for this little three-day-old creature. I recommend you make a copy of this and every time you get sad or blue or angry or just plain bummed: look at this creature. I defy you not to smile. 

 So here’s what I ate — sometimes sharing with my State Fair “husband.”

Honey sunflower ice cream, honey tasting, corn on the cob, “Blue Cheese Corn Fritz” (corn fritters with blue cheese, corn kernels served with dipping sauce), half of a succulent sweet peach, Pronto Pup, Walleye-stuffed mushrooms, German Nic Nacs (double crunch peanuts), couple sips of beer – including maple bacon beer, draft root beer, shared turkey sandwich, tasting of cheese cubes, and a bite of a “rollover” (apple turnover). 

I read my list to a Minnesota friend and he said it sounded like a lot. To my State Fair “husband” it seemed like a hell of a lot less than years past–by a third from our peak. 

 

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I just love the farmers market during Summer.  This is not my fave season, although if you have friends with a beach house — as it turns out I do —  life is certainly greatly improved.  But, goodness, the market is lush with fruits and vegetables for the most healthful cooking.  And, living.

Of course, we are in the middle of peach season – yummy.  Eaten in the hand, or sliced into whole grain cereal and a dash of nutmeg, or macerated in cognac with a scrape of vanilla bean.  And, that’s if you aren’t going to cook cobblers, pies, crumbles.

Summer Wonders

Summer Wonders

This weekend, at the Union Square greenmarket in Manhattan, I happened upon the cutest little tomatoes.  Larger than cherries, smaller than standard.  With a deep orange/red color and topped with a dash of burgundy.  Wonderful.  I cut them up and added them to my sautéed fairytale eggplants, with some roast chicken.  And a crumble of James Brown blue cheese from the Cato Corner farm.

I would show you that dish, but gee, it seems to have disappeared.  But, here are some of my market goodies sitting on my NYC kitchen windowsill.

 

This is the time of the year when I cook up some of my grandmother’s garden vegetable dishes: with fresh green beans or zucchini. When I was growing up, you could not get me to eat them.  Now, they are not only redolent and evocative of my youth, they are simply delicious!

Grandma’s Green Beans

2 Tomatoes (Beefsteak are fine, no sense overpaying for heirlooms at this time of the year)

3 handfuls of Green beans (look for those flat Roma beans – but any type or color will work)

2 or 3 smallish Potatoes (I like the little Yukon Golds — starting to see the first picks of the season)

3-4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cut up the tomatoes, put them in a saucepan first — they create most of the liquid you will need for this dish.  Cut up the potatoes into biggish chunks then toss in the green beans. I remove the ends – cook’s choice.  Drizzle on the olive oil, pour in (maybe) a couple of tablespoons of water, salt and pepper.  Put on the lid and cook at a low, slow simmer.  20-30 minutes or so.  This is no al dente affair.  More like a vegetable stew.  I let the potatoes determine the length of the cook.  If you pick a potato that can stand up to the cook, you should be fine.

Buon appetito!

 

 

There are two products on the market that have been bugging me — so I gotta get this off my chest. 

A diet drink called “Diet Cane Sugar Soda” and an iced confection called “Greek Frozen Yogurt.”  Really?!

This’ll be brief. Cane sugar is, well, sugar!  Diet sodas use artificial sweeteners. Maybe the cane sugar is buried in the “natural flavors” though that doesn’t seem plausible for a drink that labels itself as cane sugar. And while we’re at it, what ARE natural flavors?

Now to Greek Frozen Yogurt. Greek yogurt is a texture — made by straining yogurt and removing the whey until you get that nice, creamy consistency. Hey, I’m not trashing greek yogurt – it is a staple in my diet. But, when you add it into the other ingredients and toss it into your industrial ice cream maker, isn’t it really just fro-yo in a pretty (that is: marketing) dress?

Just sayin’


 

Huh?

I figured out the perfect method for drying out my curly kale to make Kale Chips: the ShamWow® I purchased at the Minnesota State Fair. That ubiquitous dry-em towel takes the water and moisture right out of the freshly washed kale like nothing else. 

And, if you’re looking for the best recipe to make your Kale Chips, look no farther than Melissa Clark’s how-to video from the New York Times.

Marriage made in heaven – Kale in need of a good drying. And, my ShamWow!

 
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BLUE CHEESE AND CORN FRITZ!

Corn Fritter at the MN State Fair (Photo: foodbeast.com)

Walleye Roll move over! There’s a new fave food in town. You are looking at the Blue Corn and Cheese Fritz. It is a top-notch combination of tender corn fritter with the perfect choice of blue cheese for the fair crowd (Gorgonzola) speckled with succulent kernels of good ol’ Minnesota corn. With a side of chimichurri sauce that condimented the crispy, deep-fried but not greasy, balls of wonderfulness perfectly.

If you have the good fortune of being close to St. Paul and could go to the Minnesota State Fair, you can get these little paragons of deliciosity at the Blue Barn food stand in the newly completed West End Market.

Good appetite.

So busy going to the Minnesota State Fair, I have little time to chronicle my adventures, but follows is a quickie list of foods I have eaten — probably not in order, because I’m still digesting. Haha. Get it!?!?

* Honey sunflower ice cream plus multi-spoonfuls of honey tastings 
* Corn on the cob
* Sausage sampler from Cynthia’s Sausage booth of Irish sausage, wild rice with jalapeño and cheese sausage, Swedish sausage speckled with potato bits. Served in a paper tray with sauerkraut 
* Nibble of bison hotdog – Chicago style – which, btw, I don’t get. Why junk up a perfectly good hotdog with all those condiments? Makes no sense to me, but then I’m not a fan of Chicago
* Two sips of a craft beer (with a touch of cardamom) from my friend’s flight of MN beers
* Vanilla milkshake from the Moo Bar outside the Cattle Barn
* Turkey-to-Go. How good can a turkey sandwich be? Come to the fair and find out. It’s near the Poultry Barn. 
* Walleye Roll (think lobster roll – but with flaked walleye: a Minnesota-based perch, wild rice! celery and lightly mayoed on a thick slab of open-faced bread touched with butter). This might be my FAVORITE dish at the fair!
* Walleye cakes (like crab cake only with walleye and a tad bit of smoked salmon). Yum!
* Pronto Pup®
* Cup of coffee
* Deep-Fried pumpkin pie with cinnamon ice cream
 

Minni Pumpkin Pie

 

It’s that time of the year for the annual Great Minnesota Get-Together.  Edition 2014.  

Yep, stay tuned right here with Janet Eats – to follow my culinary (yes, CULINARY, dammit) adventures. 

Here is the MN State Fair’s List of New Foods. Click it. Read it.  And, Weep. 

I haven’t fully perused the provenance or full ingredients list quite yet. But, I’m leaning towards Bison Dog, Pizza Tots, and Rustic Scones. Maybe the Jello Salad Ice Cream and the Breakfast Juicy Lulu. But, Gluten-Free Beer-Battered Brat!  Really?!?!  It’s the State Fair for crissakes!

and, of course, grilled corn (Circa 2011)

Citarella Vegetable Salad

Fruits and veggies in Berlin, Dresden, Prague and Brussels were good. But, I missed my salad!!

One of my favorite dishes to seek out when traveling is rabbit cooked in almost any style. Coniglio in Italy. Lapin in France, or as it turns out, in Belgium. 

This is the dish I ordered in this hip little restaurant in Brussels. In English – the joint was called “Greedy Glutton.”  There were some Americans or Brits in the room, but there were as many (if not more) locals at the tables 
 
I ordered this Lapin, a saddle of rabbit, cooked in a type of Belgian Lambic called Geuze. Served with frites, of course. On the side: a simple, perfectly-dressed green salad. To drink: a flavorful blonde Belgian beer.  

Our waiter was an eccentric-looking man. Picture an Ichabod Crane dandy with high waist pants held up by a belt that hitched up the back loop. He was laconic. And possessed just enough English to take our order, and display a wry sense of humor. I asked him if a particular lambic/beer beverage was good. He wrinkled his fringe- covered brow, paused, then answered ‘well, it’s okay.’  

He almost grimaced when my table mates ordered soup and fries. “As you like…” He muttered. With a slight smile on his face. 

It was fun. And, oh so good. 

Hippety. Hoppety. Then on to the chocolate shops. 
 

Ain’t no doubt about it, I hit the best. The BEST, the veritable mother lode of awkward English menus – at a great restaurant in Prague. 

 There were special categories on the menu for “FEEDERS” – which, after we grilled the waiter (or barbecued him, as one of our guest speakers said this week) – we are pretty sure really meant “foodies.”
 
But this was my favorite on that multi-lingual ode to gastronomy. 
 
Now doesn’t that just sound delicious? Spicy sausage of the chef. Yum. Yum. 
 
 
 

When I found myself alone (got disconnected from my peeps after looking for a cash machine – more on this misadventure on Ruling Woman) — I went looking to get me some Czech food. 

I ended up at a little off-the-path (but not too much, had to get back to the hotel to meet the group – and I didn’t want to get lost again. It was bad enough I got split from my group). And ordered a potato soup that the menu described “in bread”. No suspense — you can see the picture. But I thought it was a mistranslation – and I think the waiter was laughing under his breath when I asked for bread on the side. You know, thereto.  (see fish note)

I am told it is rather typical Bohemian. And it. Was. Delicious. Just what I wanted. 

When the Italians immigrated to Germany, yes, of course they brought their pasta. And, their gelato. But then they took it one step farther. 

 

Meet “Spaghetti Eis.” This dessert (which I bought in Dresden, but is apparently ubiquitous in Germany) is ice cream extruded through a noodle maker – to look like spaghetti. 

The Eis is piled over a mound of whipped cream — which I suspect was pre-frozen — and topped with sauces and crumbles and shreds that make it look like a real spaghetti dish. “Marinara” is usually strawberry (tomato sauce) with shredded white chocolate (Parmesan).  

 I picked “Spaghetti Carbonara” – which was covered in a vanilla sauce with walnuts, hazelnuts and amaretto cookies. 

Sounds a little weird. Tastes a lotta delicious. 

Three Eis Later




This was my first meal in Dresden — if you don’t count the cake and coffee which is traditionally served at 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon.

 This was my choice for the menu, although it took me and my colleague sitting next to me at dinner about 10 minutes to decipher. 
 
Pike perch – I knew was a freshwater fish. Baked in egg turned out to be a fluffy coating around the perch – with a slightly crusty outside and an almost soufflé like inside. 

But what the heck is a thereto salad? Turns out it is bad translation of “on the side”. 

My first Dresden dinner was delicious. 

We are on the road — in our Mercedes-Benz bus, Abba and Beatles and the Who playing in the background — having left Berlin, now heading to Dresden. 

I am sad to see the Berlin leg of our visit end. Several of the other journalists will be returning — many of us not. 

I’m having my lunch on the bus right now – made from our hotel breakfast buffet. Cheese with little salami bits and another slice of stinky cheese. Bottled water. And a few crudités. All wrapped in plastic bags from our hotel bathrooms. 

I do have to laugh — one morning someone in our group said they were “sick of the bread.”

Really?!? They have the most incredible bread here. From hearty wheat to even sliced white. How can you get sick of this bread? I am reminded of people I knew back when I was in high school who, for one reason or the other, had the opportunity to travel to Europe (much rarer in those days of Pan Am and TWA). And they would come back 10 pounds heavier because of “all that bread!”  I understand. 

More coming for Dresden, I’m sure. More news. But also (hopefully) more bread. 

I’ve written about this before, I know, but it makes me a little crazy when I see a Starbucks in a European country, like here in Germany. 

How is it that an American coffee institution that built its business around ersatz European coffee drinks with coffee that is almost always overroasted, gains any popularity whatsoever in the actual Europe?

It is hugely popular. Always crowded. I do avoid Starbucks if I can, so I’m not entirely clear if it just draws American visitors.  I think it likely attracts locals as well.

So, when we were a little early for a lunch right inside the Brandenburg Gate in Eastern Berlin, we found ourselves in search of a cup of coffee. The only place at that particular location we could find was, yes I am sure you guessed it, a dreaded Starbucks. I dragged my feet as we neared the crowded establishment when lo and behold — immediately next door sat a German bakery and coffee establishment.

There, I got a simple and delicious cappuccino. My friend got a hot chocolate with whipped cream on the top. And to top it off — a big ol’ pretzel with mustard. 

Oh yeah!

 

Pretty much you cannot go to Berlin without getting a curry-wurst — even better with frites. My first trip here in 2013, I went to one of those simple street stalls near Checkpoint Charlie, and had my first curry-wurst experience.

This trip — while visiting the studio of the artist who first devised the idea of making one very large section of the Berlin wall, a “canvas” for 180 artists (called the East Side Gallery) — our group leader pointed out Curry 36 — allegedly (one of) the most popular curry-wurst joints in town.

So – this is what it is:

Big ol’ bratwurst, cut into small rings, sprinkled with some kind of curry powder-salt mix, topped with a high quality ketchup. Served with a tiny red plastic fork, the likes of which I would love to have the patent on those perfect little plastic tined instruments. 

You can order the wurst with or without the casing. Mit darm means with the casing. With or without French fries (“frites“) plain or with ketchup or with mayo. All, some, none. 

OH

MY 

GOD


I’ve written about foreign translations of food before – like the “fantasy of artichokes” in Sicily. But — as I sit waiting – in the charming outdoor alley of Brauhaus Lemke — for what was described to me by a colleague as “the best spaetzle in Berlin” — I notice on the German language menu (in other words: not translated) under the Schwein category – a dish called Steak “Western Art”.

But we’ll have to leave this pondering for later because OMG — the best spaetzle in Berlin was just delivered to my table. Served in a hot shallow pan, the most delicate noodles in a light cream sauce, with peppers (red, green and yellow), scallions, onions, and leeks (white and green parts) – topped with a julienne of salty, crisped ham and melted cheese. 

So incredible that even the rat that ran by several tables away didn’t spoil the mood. 


 

In these days of global cuisine, food shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. So when I ordered a seasonal salad at my Berlin hotel with “fried” monkfish, bacon and shiitake mushrooms, I figured I knew what I was getting. 

Not. 

The vinagrette was berry-based, yes — except it was elderberry. The “fried” fish was lightly sautéed and tender: we’re not talking fish fry here!

The bacon was not “his first name is O-S-C-A-R” — if you get my drift. The shiitakes were soft to the tooth, not reconstituted and chewy. And the seasonal greens were heavy with the red of radicchio, though absolutely not bitter. 

Even the vinagrette receptacle was slightly altered: square with a delicate little spout at the corner.

Ah, yes. It is, indeed, the little things.