Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Date Night, in Your Kitchen

Extra Virgin on Cooking Channel

It is nice to get out of your house and have an intimate date at a cozy restaurant. Your palate deserves something special, every now and then. Dinner and a movie (or a concert!) with my wife—yeah that’s the kind of date I like. Usually there is room for negotiations: “You want to watch a chick flick? Then we’re having steak for dinner!” Or … “You want to try a new vegetarian restaurant? Ok, but then we see a movie where at least two dozens of cars explode!”

But now with kids, and no nearby family to watch them, when Debi and I go out, it is usually for a spontaneous lunch date, when our children are in school. We make time for ourselves when we can, and considering we don’t have a 9 to 5 kind of job, the middle of the day works really well for us. The evening though, the evening is tough!

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Where the Wild Things Are

I still remember it as if it was yesterday, even though it was 30 years ago!  In Italy, school runs six days a week—yes we attend classes on Saturday morning too, a real bummer. But Sunday is revered as the “Day of Rest”… unless you live in the country!

Yes, if you lived in the Italian countryside until a few decades ago, you really could not sleep past 7 am on any given Sunday during fall and winter, and not because your grandma forced you to go to Mass!  What actually got us out of bed was the herd of hunters and dogs that roamed our property, anxious to find their lunch for the day. It was like New Year’s Eve fireworks, as shotguns broke the morning silence and loads of pellets sped through the mist and landed on our farm’s roof… tic, tic tic, one after the other. The message to me was clear: “We are here and we are hungry. Stay in the house and forget about your bicycle ride… at least until after lunch time.”

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Cooking with Kids

I live in a house with three girls—my wife and two daughters. And a female poodle! The whole casa is filled with dolls, shoes, lipsticks and fashion items. The only manly touches here are my biking gear and my kitchen knives (and those, too, are lipstick/nail-polish red).

When my daughters ask me to play with them, I have to dress up dolls, wear butterfly wings, and very often pretend that I am passionate about Camp Rock and the Jonas Brothers. Thank God I have been spared the whole Justin Bieber thing up until now—I hope it lasts.

When the tables are turned, and my kids want to enter my playground, they join me in the kitchen.

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Snack Food, Italian-Style

Use leftover risotto to fry up arancini, an addictive Italian snack.

In Rome, there’s a McDonald’s mere steps from the Spanish Steps. It’s always busy, but I can’t imagine why anyone would choose McDonald’s over authentic Italian snack food. Fast-food French fries vs. freshly-fried arancini risotto balls? That’s a no-brainer.

“Italians are experts in some of the most creative and satisfying snack foods around,” says Mario Batali, a true expert in all things Italian (and all things delicious).

Tonight on Ciao America, Mario’s visiting food spots across the country for the best Italian snacks, stateside. In Rhode Island, Saint Louis and New York, Mario finds the panini, the frittatas, the grilled pizzas and spiedini that are ready to eat pronto!

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Crafting a Better Pizza Crust

The guys at Best Pizza in Williamsburg, Brooklyn know what they're doing. Photo: Roberto Ferdman

When perfected, pizza crust is light and airy, substantial enough to hold its toppings, but never so heavy that it weighs you down. Each bite is at once chewy and crunchy, and each mouthful is a delicious balance between texture and taste.

But last week when I pulled a pie from out of my own oven, it was none of those. I kneaded it and let it rise, shaped it, dressed and tossed it into an oven set at the highest possible temperature. To my disappointment, the crust was dense and heavy. Where did I go wrong?

Looking for an answer, I caught up with Frank Pinello from Best Pizza in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to learn the ins and outs of perfecting pizza crust.

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Extra Virgin on Wheels: Bruschetta To Go

A very special Italian food truck -- Debi gets our menu ready.

This week on Extra Virgin, Debi and I volunteer our time for an important Los Angeles charity, Midnight Mission. Our contribution is to cook up a few Italian specialities and sell them on the Vesuvio Food Truck to a very hungry crowd. All the proceeds are going to The Midnight Mission!

On the menu are Turkey Meatballs, risotto croquettes or Arancini, and Sautéed Mushroom Bruschetta.

Meatballs and arancini are real treats in Tuscany, but bruschetta is a staple. It’s served in every home; in every bar as early as 11 am, when people get out of the office for a glass of prosecco or a traditional spuma (a light Italian soda); and as an appetizer for every event you might attend. But any time of the day is good for bruschetta, and the variety of toppings used is incredibly abundant, and seasonal.

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Toasting Grandma’s Biscotti

An tradtional Italian dessert: Biscotti and a glass of Vin Santo.

I love baking biscotti for family events and potluck parties, and especially during the holidays, when I make several batches and ship them as presents to family and friends. They are perfect gifts to make on a small budget, and they travel very well.

Cantuccini di Prato, the traditional Tuscan name for the biscotti we make, are the real reason Italians start drinking at a young age. Usually grandparents are to blame. Well… at least in my case!

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Risotto: A Rice Story

Risotto Jamie’s Grilled Musrhoom Risotto makes an easy and elegant Valentine’s Day dish, especially when made with carnaroli rice.

Stirring, ladling, stirring, ladling, tasting, stirring, second-guessing, ladling. . . Making the perfect risotto is a labor of love best undertaken with backup – your sweetheart, a friend or even an unsuspecting dinner guest with a strong arm will do. Because no matter what happens, if the salad needs mixing, the fish needs roasting, the cat’s tail catches fire, that risotto must be stirred and observed, with ladleful after ladleful of stock gradually added to the rice, for 17 to 30 minutes. This makes it both a bother and the most amazingly social, make-together dish imaginable, perfect for an intimate dinner for two (for Valentine’s Day!) or a small, friends-in-the-kitchen dinner party.

The magic of risotto is the alluring creaminess that emerges from the combination of just rice, broth and a little (okay, a lot of) stirring. I consulted Made In Italy: Food & Stories, by Giorgio Locatelli, and it turns out the starches are key to risotto’s unique texture. The rice contains two contrasting types of starch: soft amylopectin on the surface, which rubs off and gets reabsorbed by the rice, making risotto creamy, and firmer amylase inside the rice grains, which maintains the shape and keeps the cooked rice al dente, or firm to the bite.

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Untrapped: The Anti-Tourist’s Guide to Venice with Jamie Oliver

Even though it's his first trip to Venice, Jamie Oliver seeks out what the locals eat.

The canals, the singing gondoliers, the crowds of pigeons and tourists in Piazza San Marco. These are the iconic images of Venice that you’ll see on all the postcards. But if you, like Jamie Oliver, center your trips around culinary exploration, the highlights of this romantic Italian city include spaghetti alle vongole, cuttlefish, fresh peach bellinis and tiramisu.

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A Pizza My Heart

Gabriele Corcos

Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar star in Extra Virgin, Wednesday nights at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT.

I started making pizzas when I was 10. My mom celebrates her birthday in June, and every year we throw a great garden party with anywhere between 80 and 100 guests. Needless to say, lots of food is prepared and many jugs of wine are consumed. One of the staples during this amazing celebration is pizza, which we bake in a 14th-century bread oven, built under the porch of our farmhouse.

Back when I was younger, my parents would call in our local pizzaiolo, Carlo. He owned the most famous pizzeria in Fiesole, and was always the evening’s attraction—flipping dough through the air, his face stained by charcoal and his hands white with flour. He fascinated me, and always let me help out during the evening. An average of about 200 pizzas came out of the oven over the course of an evening; it was like working in a factory. By the time a new pizza hit the cutting board, it was gone.

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