Morini’s cure for missing Italy

In a reversal of roles, my sister is in Italy right now and I’m stuck at home. She’s there on a spring break trip as part of her advertising major’s curriculum and after a week of visiting agencies in different cities, she’ll get class credit for it.

Basically, I’m jealous. I want to be on vacation right now. I want to eat my way through Italy  for a week (or a lifetime).  But no, I can’t. Not right now. So to make myself feel better about this fact, I pulled off a hard to snag, last minute reservation for two at  Osteria Morini, Michael White’s new SoHo restaurant.

Fritto bolognese

While the scenery wasn’t as nice (SoHo’s cool but it ain’t Italy), the restaurant itself was cozy and cute, going for that rustic trattoria look (even if the prices were definitely more big city than Italian countryside). For not leaving the country, it was a pretty delicious alternative. Continue reading

Thanks for the memories, San Francisco!

It seems like literally just yesterday that I was boarding a plane for the West Coast, heading out to California for the first time to start new adventures and make new friends and eat my way through a whole new city. Almost three months later, here I am back in New York. I had my adventures, I made my great new friends, and I had many a good meal. But now it’s back to life (and eating) on the East Coast.

Before I dive back into the New York food world, however, I’d like to take a moment to pay homage to one of the best meals of my San Francisco days.

One of my coworker/friends used to always rant and rave about Foreign Cinema in the Mission. Her whole face lit up and her eyes sparkled when she talked about it. So when she asked if I wanted to go with her and another coworker/friend, I said yes right away.

Everything on the menu sounded fantastic, the type of food you might call California/American nouveau (i.e. a little bit of everything hence the American part, and made with fresh, locally farmed ingredients, hence the California part).

Arugula salad with beets, figs, toast and shaved fennel

I don’t usually order salads before dinner (I either get an appetizer or just get straight down to business) but a salad on the menu sparked my interest. Wild arugula, roquefort toasts, beets, shaved fennel, and black mission figs. (I was sold when I read figs.) The slight bitterness of the arugula (which I always prefer to lettuce) was a nice complement to the sweetness of the beets and figs, and the crispy crunch of the toasts made everything just perfect.

Orecchiette with lobster mushrooms and other deliciousness

But the star of this show was definitely my entree: orecchiette pasta with wild lobster mushrooms, bloomsdale spinach, walla walla onion and garlic chili. I had seen lobster mushrooms earlier during my time in San Fran but never tasted them so when I saw them on the menu, I was intrigued. It was a creamy, almost buttery dish, with an overall smooth, texture but with a slight crunch perhaps from the crispy edges of the lobster mushroom. The garlic chili gave it a nice warmth without being overpowering and the onion gave it the perfect sweetness to play off of that. It really was one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve had… and that’s including my  recent trip to Italy! Later when I got home I googled lobster mushrooms and found out they’re not even technically mushrooms, but instead a type of parasite that grows on mushrooms and turns them into the bright red-orange, gnarled things that I saw at the market. Who knew parasites could be so delicious?

And it wasn’t just the food that was great, either. Outside in a walled-in area they were playing a movie (the Bob Dylan inspired I’m Not There)  projected on to a blank wall with speakers set up next to each table like at a drive-in movie theatre.

Great food, cool setting, fantastic company… San Francisco, just how I want to remember it.

 

It’s called comfort food for a reason

Spaghetti and tomato sauce... it's like a hug in food form

A good bowl of pasta definitely can’t fix very many problems (well except for temporary hunger) but it sure helps you forget about them for a while. Seriously, some spaghetti, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and pepperoncino go a long way when put together in just the right way. Yesterday was a long day but sitting down with this spicy yet subtly sweet, deliciously rich and thick pasta made perfectly yet seemingly effortlessly by my own in-house Italian, well that just was all the comforting I needed.

When only Italian food will do

Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for Italy, specifically Florence, the city I called home for two years. I miss my Italian friends and my fellow American expatriate friends. I miss my old apartment and the street I lived on. I miss the espresso and of course, I miss the food. Always the food. With no vacation long enough to visit my old stomping grounds or enough money to even buy the ticket if I did  have the time, I get stuck going through old photo albums and reminiscing with the boyfriend about all the good times. (The funny thing about nostalgia is that it conveniently hides the bad memories too, but that’s a story for another day and a different post.)

So to get me out of my funk, I knew the thing to do was eat some good Italian food. My reasoning being that if I could have some good food, then really my two favorite things about Italy would both be here with me. (The other thing being the aforementioned boyfriend.)

When Flaneur mentioned that he had a sort-of relative (one of those people who’s not technically a relative but is more easily described as one) who worked at Morandi in the West Village I took it as a sign that it was where we should go. I figured it had two things working strongly in its favor: one, it was a Keith McNally restaurant and since everything he opens turns to restaurant gold it had to be good and two, no self-respecting Italian could possibly work at an Italian restaurant in America that wasn’t good, right? And as it always gives me great pleasure to say this: I was right.

The restaurant itself was rustic-casual with a lively, fun atmosphere and upbeat jazz pouring from the speakers and mixing with the chatter and clinking of dishes and glasses. The menu had lots to choose from and even several things that I hadn’t seen in months on any other menus.

One of the specific things I’ve been nostalgic for recently are fried artichokes so when I saw them on the menu I didn’t even think of starting off with anything else. I love most things that are fried but artichokes are some of my favorite and these did not disappoint. Fried to a nice warm brown, and sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice, they were light and crispy with an almost buttery after taste.

Carciofi alla giudea

Carciofi alla giudea

Flaneur got the burrata, which I was happy about because that would’ve been my go-to appetizer had the artichokes been missing from the menu. The creamy white ball of cheese came with three roasted cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, all of which quickly disappeared from the plate.

Burrata e pachini

For the entrée, I knew I wanted pasta. If a place can’t do pasta right then it shouldn’t have the claim to italian food, so I went with another one of my old favorites from when I lived abroad: pappardelle al cinghiale. The long, ribbon-like noodles and rich, meaty wild boar chunks were delicious, just as good as some of the best I’d had in Florence. With each forkful of the pasta and soft, juicy boar, I felt like I was catching up with an old friend.

Pappardelle al cinghiale

Although he thought about getting a second course (meat or fish), Flaneur took my route and went with a pasta dish: pici al limone. I was ready to be critical of these because pici (especially the ones I’ve eaten in Siena) are some of my most beloved noodles, but these left no room for skepticism or complaint. Simple and delicious, like the best italian pastas usually are, the thick, round spaghetti-like noodles were both tangy and cheesy under their blanket of parmesan cheese and lemon.

Pici al limone

As usual though, it was going to take the desserts to really seal the deal with me and steal my heart, and Morandi, with its dessert menu of vin santo and cantucci, budino di riso and other sweet treats, had pretty much won me over. I went with the frittelle di ricotta and sure enough, they were the perfect way to end the meal.  The five golfball sized ricotta fritters dusted in sparkly brown cinnamon sugar  were soft and warm, with moist, fluffy insides like little clouds of sugary perfection.

Frittelle di ricotta

Finally, because he loves pine nuts (and even kind of has a pinolo shaped head), Flaneur opted for the crostata di pinoli, a moist pine nut tart under a snowy layer of confectioner’s sugar, surrounded by a drizzle of spiced honey and topped with a dollop of creamy pear gelato (which was also, for the sake of continuity, shaped like a pine nut). The whole thing was subtle and light, with the gelato giving the warm cake below a nice cool creaminess.

Crostata di pinoli

So until I get a nice chunk of time and a great deal on a transatlantic flight, I think I’ve figured out the cure to the missing-Italy blues.  And based on my dinner at Morandi, I have to say, it seems to do the trick.

Lessons in pesto

The goods

The best thing about having an Italian boyfriend is that his standards for Italian food are ridiculously high. He would rather eat a sock than dinner at the Olive Garden, never buys pasta sauce in a jar, splurges on “good” olive oil, and like me, he thinks that alfredo sauce is weird and gross. Tonight for example, he wanted to make pesto. Great, I thought, I love pesto! So off he went to the supermarket down the street but instead of coming back with a small jar of the oily green stuff most people would’ve bought, he came back with a wedge of Parmiggiano-Reggiano (aka Parmesan), a fat head of garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and olive oil (Italian of course).

Apart from grating the cheese and documenting this whole process with my camera, I didn’t really do much. I observed and was greatful. That was about it. Flaneur on the other hand, got to business. He finely diced a couple cloves of raw garlic and added them to the bowl of grated Parmesan I had finished.

Mixing ingredients

Next, between tossing several of them in his mouth and marveling at how good they were (even though they were from Spain), he chopped up the pine nuts and also added those to the cheese and garlic mix.

Chopping pine nuts

Up next were the basil leaves, which he plucked off their long stems and minced with the sharpest knife my small kitchen had to offer. Once the basil was chopped into small enough pieces it went in with the cheese, garlic and pine nuts.

Chopping basil

After getting a generous pour of olive oil (and then a couple more for good measure), he stirred everything around until it was a thick, even green mixture with an aroma so rich and powerful it filled the whole apartment. (It’s now hours since we ate and my room still smells of garlic and basil in a wonderful pesto-scented Yankee candle kind of way.)

Stirring it all up

Finally, he cooked the pasta, De Cecco fusilli (his favorite brand and the only one he eats at home in Italy). After draining it he threw it back in the pot, mixed in the pesto and served it. We sprinkled on some more fresh-grated Parmesan and sat down to enjoy our delicious pasta with authentic homemade pesto. Mmmm mmm!

Buon appetito!

“Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays…”

After a long day of work on a Monday that most other people had off, followed by a failed post-work shopping excursion to find an outfit for a specific event, followed by a cold walk in the snow when you left both your hat and the hood to your coat at home, there is nothing better than finally getting home and having someone else cook you dinner. It’s even better when that someone is Italian and they’re cooking pasta. Monday, you just redeemed yourself.

The highlight of my Monday: Spaghetti alla carbonara