It has been a while, huh? You might think I returned from Europe, dropped everything, and moved half a world away! Well, surprise! You are right.
Do not, despair! I am back and hope to continue sharing my travels and food adventures with you all any anyone else who might enjoy a taste of my new Singaporean life. As an added bonus, to you (if not me), I have returned to the kitchen, whipping up all manor of delightful and time consuming treats. You can look for them here on the site or here on the other site.
Moving somewhere new is always challenging and exciting. This move has had it's own set of challenges, but the rewards have been incredible, and I cannot wait to document it all along the way.
Today, as luck would have it, my procrastination of both writing about Europe and canning all the beautiful produce my beautiful friend gave me (thanks Katie and River Root Farm!) resulted in my making one of my favorite summertime dishes, this steak bruschetta. Really, I should be thanking Katie for infecting me with that August ailment of canner's guilt, but that's neither here nor there. Actually, you should all be thanking me for this easy, delicious recipe!
Even without a farmer friend to provide vegetables, this dish is affordable and easy. Long slices of toasted baguette, rubbed with garlic, slathered with long roasted tomatoes, thin tender slices of steak and topped with balsamic dressed, spicy arugula. What are you waiting for?
This, like most dishes I make over and over again, relies less on a recipe and more on method and what you have on hand. Since I am flush in produce, the only things I needed to grab were the steak and baguette. This is such a forgiving dish, you wouldn't even need to marinate the steak. If using grass fed flank steak, a little dip in a tenderizing bath will certainly benefit the beef, though. Lucky for me, I am able to purchase frozen beef from the wonderful Fox Hollow Farm here in Kentucky and it is so very good. Support your local farms! Use what you have. Pork, sausages or lamb would be great, too. For vegetarians a heap of grilled veggies or mushrooms, burrata or feta or just leave the beef off (depending on your bread, it could be vegan this way). The real star, I believe, are the long roasted tomatoes. But first: marinade!
I love eggplant. At this time of year, when everything else is captivating and vibrant in color, no one ever says, "I just had the sweetest, juiciest eggplant!". Still, the mellow eggplant is so tasty while she's young, so what are you waiting for? Like most recipes I love, this one is much more about the method than anything else. The salsa verde, for lack of a better term, could be livened up with a fine dice of Fresno chile or maybe sweetened a bit with flecks of sundried tomatoes. Hate anchovies? What's wrong with you? Kidding! Just leave them out (or use olives). Not into mint? Seriously? Kidding again! Use basil. Really, the thing I love most about this preparation is you throw the eggplant right onto a hot grill (or grill pan, in my case) without any of that tedious salting/rinsing/drying business.
Like I said, this is more of a method based recipe and could be used with other veggies; zucchini, for example, would be great this way. When I made this, I used about 1 cup loosely packed parsley, 1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves, 2 T capers, 2 flat anchovy fillets and 2 half-dollar sized sun dried tomatoes. The herbs I chopped pretty fine and the capers, anchovies and sun dried tomatoes were finely diced. To this, I added about 1/4 cup of good extra virgin olive oil. This type of sauce I like to mix up and let the favors meld together a bit. I also seasoned the salsa with some chili flake and a pinch of sea salt (use a bit more salt if you have omitted the anchovy). This is a taste as you go scenario since it will change in flavor as it sits. Remember: you can always add more salt but you can't take it away.
Get yourself organized with your sliced eggplant (with a few thin strips of skin removed), the salsa verde and a shallow dish with about 1/2 cup of balsamic in it. So, like I said, onto the grill they go, naked as they came. Make sure the grill or pan is clean, well oiled and really HOT (keep an eye on your charcoal grill temp). It took me about 10-15 minutes, flipping when needed, to achieve the proper charring and done-ness. Remember, the only thing worse than hating anchovies is undercooked eggplant. Now, here is the great part of this recipe and the reason these little beauties end up tasting so fantastic: straight from the grill they go into a waiting bath of balsamic vinegar. Let them sit for a few seconds on each side so they can soak up a little vinegar and cool down before transferring to a plate or platter. Continue grilling and dipping until they are all cooked.
On my ever growing list of favorite cities, Napoli is always near the top. Being that this city is one of the oldest continually inhabited in the world, it is no surprise the wealth of history and tradition held here. Energy levels run high, no doubt fueled by the delightfully intense espresso being brewed at every turn. With it's frenetic, scooter riding population flying around, it can feel a bit overwhelming upon entering the maze of cobbled streets in the old quarter. Never fear, though, as Napoli is a traveler's dream and a budget oriented, food traveler's fantasy. Certainly, from a culinary standpoint, there is more to offer in beautiful Napoli than pizza. After a few weeks on the road and funding dwindling, you'd be hard pressed to find me eating anything but perfect, simple, tasty and cheap pizza napoletana. If you don't like pizza, what's wrong with you? Just kidding. But seriously, go to Napoli and eat a thousand pizzas, OK?
Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) is an accredidation and the presence of the above sign will indicate pizzas are prepared using only natural, unprocessed ingredients and baked in a wood-fired oven. However, this is a certification you pay for and many pizzerias without this plaque still follow the same standards and use the approved ingredients: '00' flour, san marzano tomatoes (only to be crushed by hand), bufala or fior di latte mozzarella from Campania, natural yeast, sea salt and fresh basil. The dough may not be mechanically manipulated in any way (no rolling pins!) and the pizzas themselves should bake in the wood oven for 90 seconds. Vera sign or not, this will be the best margherita pizza of your life!
Of the many, many pizzerias in town, and after much exhaustive research (you're welcome!) I still am partial to Pizzeria Di Matteo. Turning out delicious pizzas since 1936, this pizzeria made the most memorable pizza of my last trip to Napoli. On this trip, too, it was love at first bite! Especially if your first bite is of one of the insanely delicious arancino they sell out front on the street. So great, in fact, I had to devote my entire next post to fried friggitoria goodies. For now, we are talking pizza, and what could be better than that? Nothing really except maybe Falanghina and pizza together.
Our tour of Emilia-Romagna ended in the elegant and very pretty city of Ferrara. Without much of an agenda, we took it upon ourselves to wander about and let the city open itself up to us. After many days of travel and so much stimulation (and food!) it can be nice to walk aimlessly and just take it in. Ferrara was just the spot to do this and we delighted in the sights and sounds of the ancient city center (a UNESCO world heritage site, no less) with well dressed bicycle riders and buzzing cafes at every corner and even this elaborate umbrella installation, though you get the feeling it must rarely rain here.
Entering the town through the impressive Este Castle is a nice way to arrive, passing over the moat and marveling at the grandness of it all. One of Italy's most famous and influental filmmakers, Michelangelo Antonioni of L'Avventura and The Passenger fame, among others, called Ferarra home and was buried here upon his death.
Ferarra is surrounded by nearly six miles of walls built between the 15th and 16th century. Some of the best preserved Renaissance walls in Italy, you could easily while away the afternoon strolling along. Or, do as the locals do and ride your way around and through town. Several spots in town rent bikes by the hour or day.
Our second stop in Emilia-Romagna was to the largest city and capital, Bologna. Let me tell you: it was fun! Nicknamed "la grassa", the fat one, Bologna offers many a tasty treat. Full of life and a world removed from that peaceful beauty, Ravenna. Oh, it's beautiful here, too, don't get me wrong, but there is a different kind of energy brewing in this old city and you can feel it. We stayed (where else!) a smidge outside the city center and enjoyed a twenty minute stroll into the chaotic and lively old town. Arriving on a Saturday night offered an exciting introduction to the city's large and well restored historic center and having a full day on Sunday to stroll about leisurely was pretty great, too.
There is much to see and eat here in Bologna, as one might imagine. The center is lined with attractive butchers and alimentari shops offering really high quality proscuitto and local cheeses. Some are a bit on the pricy side, but it is still possible to make a glorious picnic at a reasonable price. What we know as bologna in the US is derived from the far more glamorous and tasty mortadella. Can you believe the USDA forbids visible lard in our bologna? For shame! Grab some of the real deal here and prepare to be amazed at this tasty salume. If you'd rather not turn into 'la grassa' yourself, consider walking up the ten million stairs leading to the top of the Asinelli Tower. It is a hike, indeed, narrow and steep, plus it costs a few Euro, but even this cheap, lazy gal will say 'go for it!'. The sweeping views from the top are their own reward and then you won't feel so bad when you drink two bottles of Lambrusco later in the evening, as if I could ever feel bad about that!
From where we were staying, the lovely Fontana di Nettuno greeted us as we entered the center. Quite the greeting indeed! Located in the open Piazza Maggiore, Neptune oversees all including the nymphs spraying water from their breasts. This is one sexy fountain and like the saying goes, a sexy fountain deserves some sexy gelato. Lucky for you I have just the place!
When you are lucky enough to be on a long trip full of (hopefully) delicious food, it's easy to feel a sort of decision making fatigue. Feeling weary about our next choice after the wonderful, pasta-filled dinners in Spello, we decided to take a step off the beaten path and go in a new direction. Dangerous as this may be for those predisposed to culinary disappointment, L'Acciuga stood out among the many, many typical trattoria's in town by focusing not on the usual but on fresh Adriatic seafood. With a name like L'Acciuga (anchovy) you'll have a pretty good idea of what's in store. We ate here on a busy Friday night with every seat in the house taken. It's a fun restaurant with a submarine inspired dining room complete with portholes and aquariums. This place is fish only, which works for us. Have I mentioned I am a fan of seafood? It's true!
We started the night off right with this moderately priced DOCG Albana di Romagna. Made with the Albana grape from Emilia-Romagna, this is not an overly popular wine but it should be (keep your eyes peeled!). Crisp, tart and mineral, this reminded me of the Greco we enjoyed in Spello. At 12€ this proved to be a wise choice and perfectly complemented each of our dishes. The limited menu this evening offered only five items of which we ordered all but one.
This tartar was an elegant start to a light fish dinner. Perfectly diced bits of buttery amberjack (aka yellowtail) was bound with a bit of olive oil and little else. Contrasting the sweet, raw fish was a little mâché and frisée salad dressed in a bright olive oil and lemon dressing. The spicy Dijon emulsion really brought this dish to life and we were reminded of another time we were surprised and delighted at the raw fish/mustard combo. There could not have been a better dish to enjoy with our wine (or so we thought!).
Ravenna is an easy city to love. This was my first time in Emilia-Romagna and our furthest point North on this trip. Being so close to the Adriatic Sea, you are bound to find some amazing seafood, not to mention the tasty local wine. This graceful town will make you feel like life is easy, spent eating gelato, gazing at beautiful mosaics, sipping fine Sangiovese and snacking at cafes. This isn't entirely accurate, I am sure, but it is fun to stroll or ride about, carefree and content, and imagine what it might be lIke to stay here forever! After spending time in peaceful Umbria, this will feel super metropolitan. This is an ancient city, though, accepted it into the Roman Republic in 89 BC. Set foot in any of the eight UNESCO heritage sites and you are going to feel the age.
About 10€ will grant you admission to most of these sights. As difficult as it is to imagine making even the tiniest of mosaics in this manner, let alone cover the walls of several buildings, prepare to be amazed when you gaze up at these incomprehensible works of Byzantine art. Made with millions of tiny tiles, or tesserae, it is pretty remarkable to witness their intricacy in person. It is hard to describe and even harder to capture on film. The amount of time and number of people needed to complete these stunning works would be unthinkable today and it is amazing these have been so well preserved.
We spent several days in this beautiful city and on our first day purchased the combined ticket (valid one week) to five sights. If you have the time to try for a quiet portion of the day, you will be rewarded with solitude. If, for example, there is a large group of screaming school kids ahead of you, you might want to keep strolling and return at a more mellow hour.
Every once in a while you might be lucky enough to have a meal which displays such skill and value, you decide to eat at said spot for multiple meals. I like to think I have a pretty good gauge for this repeat meal decision making, though it can still be a struggle. There are so many places/specialties/styles of food to try! So, the choice is yours. For me, when I have a great and affordable meal, particularly when the service is gracious and kind and the food outstanding, I am apt to make another reservation. This decision will undoubtedly become easier if you have had a less than delicious meal elsewhere in town.
La Cantina di Spello is a prime example repeat dining as it's best and most necessary. Though I wanted to eat here from the get go, we arrived in town the only night closed, Monday. Sadly, this led to a disappointing (and therefore expensive) dinner across the street from here. We lucked out the following night when, without a reservation, we were able to score a seat at the communal table in the entryway. Never mind the adjacent dining room with it's stunning stonework and candles twinkling, you are going to eat beautifully sitting right here. The group of charming men eating next to you will make it known this is the best table in the house. They'd know, too, as this is where these gents eat each night (table 14). When they share their limoncello with you after dinner, you'll be inclined to agree. Enough of this, let's talk food and vino, we enjoyed plenty of both! As much as I'd like you all to think this is one dinner (and to be able to afford such a dinner) this is a combined review of two dinners.
The wine list here features the specialties of the area and is fantastic and well priced. This list compelled us to move past our usual house wine/vini sfusi tendencies. Our first bottle was made from the crisp Grechetto bianco grape. At 11€, this organic bottle was a steal and would be higher in the US, to be sure. This wine was a great match for our starters and really brought out new notes in both the food and wine. That's what it's all about, right?
Arriving in Umbria after a week in Rome is going to feel like going back in time. If you bring a rental car into the any of these ancient cities, though, it is going to feel like you are from the distant future. I'm just saying, watch those side mirrors.
I have been to Umbria before, but never to Spello. This sweet town is postcard perfect and you could spend your days getting lost among the beautiful flower lined side streets and feel perfectly content. That being said, there are some great hikes and daytrips from here plus excellent food and wine. So get lost in the mornings, grab a picnic for your hike, chill some Campari Sodas and then find yourself some wine, you know?
There are two alimentari (deli) shops in the town center, and both offer a tasty array of local meats and cheeses. My pick would be the one with this sign and no name.
I bought several items here on different occasions and was greeted kindly and served with patience. They were happy to slice off mezzo etto (50 gram) servings for we cheapos. Cinghiale (wild boar) rules in these parts and you will see it on offer in a myriad of ways. This was not boar season so if you had it in a ragú it will likely have been frozen. Still, we had a few plates of pasta di cinghiale which were delicious all the same.