Friday, March 4, 2011

Pasta with Radicchio

My fascination with radicchio started around this time last year. We had recently arrived in Italy and were invited over to our friends' Carlo and Michela's house for dinner. Michela made a lasagna with radicchio and Parmesan cheese, and I was hooked. Previously I had only had radicchio in salads, and I didn't realize how good it is cooked. After the amazing lasagna, we went on to try it in many other forms over the following months in Italy: grilled, blended into a cream sauce and served over tortelloni, and baked on pizza.

There are dozens of beautiful types of radicchio in Italy, types I have never seen in the States. Here is one of my favorites, called Castelfranco.

Sometimes I wonder if I like more because of how pretty it is, or because I truly love the taste. I think it is both.

Needless to say I have been missing it. Tonight, Paul, his cousin Beth, and I found some nice looking radicchio at the farmers' market in South Pasadena.

We brought it home and made a fresh pasta with radicchio, pancetta, and Parmesan, following this recipe:

First we mixed the dough for the pasta, and while it rested, we started on the pancetta.

After it browned, we added onion and let it cook for about a 1/2 hour.

Meanwhile, Beth rolled the pasta and Paul made a salad. And I just took pictures.

Then we rolled and cut the pasta, then unrolled it again:

At the very end, we added the chopped radicchio to the pancetta to wilt it:

Once the pasta was done, we added it to the radicchio along with a bit of the cooking liquid...

...and topped it with some Parmesan cheese.

It was a nice dinner, and fun to sit on the floor in the living room:

Beth and I were bigger fans than Paul, who doesn't really love radicchio, but he said he would still happily have it again sometime.

If you are curious about cooked radicchio, or just looking for a simple, new pasta dish, I highly recommend this.

It certainly fit the bill for our mini Ventura reunion.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gearing up for MotoGP

Note: this is a post from my (Paul's) other site, MotoWise.  If you like what you see and are interested in more from the motorcycle world, check out!

MotoGP season is getting closer and closer, and we sure are excited. Folks, if you haven't followed it too much up to this point, this season is the time to start watching. It's going to be amazing for several reasons:

If you don't know the name, you should. Valentino Rossi is a 7-time World Champion in the premier class alone, the best-liked personality in MotoGP, and a serious contender for "greatest racer of all time."  Even his enemies admit that his racecraft and skills on a motorcycle are impeccable.  He'll be on a Ducati this year, a new bike for him and the makings of an Italian dream team.

But the Duc is finicky, and Rossi's recovering from a bad shoulder injury. So far in testing he's been slow. Can he regain his legendary mojo and show the world once again that he's simply the king?

Jorge Lorenzo, last year's champ, will be showcasing his aggressiveness and skill once again on the Yamaha M1. It's a bike he knows and loves, and is one of the strongest on the grid. Jorge is a young, hungry, and incredibly talented Spaniard who will be eager to prove that the #1 plate in 2010 wasn't just a fluke.

The big unknown about Lorenzo, though, is whether or not he can develop a bike as well as he can ride one. To win both skills are crucial, and until this year the M1 has been developed by the incomparable Rossi - some say that Lorenzo benefited greatly from this. Will he be able to step up and do it on his own?

Casey Stoner, the Australian wunderkind who's nearly untouchable when he's "on," is moving from a temperamental Duc to the very refined, and brutally fast, Honda. Many say the Honda is the fastest bike on the grid, and without the front-end issues that plagued him at Ducati, Stoner may absolutely dominate when he gets on the RC212V. He's already been extremely fast in practice, and looked comfortable on the new bike right away.

But Casey has also been accurately described as a temperamental, high strung race horse. Others have beaten him in the past by getting into his head a bit, like when Rossi passed him in the dirt at Laguna. If you haven't seen that legendary pass, check it out:

Can Casey take the pressure and get another World Championship? Or will he crack?

Dani Pedrosa's the last of the "Aliens" - the four riders who seemingly perform on a level above the rest of the normal humans on the grid, for the past few years at least. Dani's a 5'2", 112-lb Spanish guy who physically looks about as formidable as a Pomeranian. But he's a racer to the core and has the cojones to twist the throttle and battle it out on the track like few others. Dani's a perennial Honda guy and will stay on the RC212V this season; it's been developed specifically for him and will add to his advantage. A former champion of the lower classes, Dani has gotten 2nds and 3rds in the MotoGP Championship, and will be hungry to win it. There's really not much holding him back, other than a formerly-broken-and-operated-on collarbone that didn't appear to be slowing him down in testing.

The problem with Dani is really just one of personality - he's not the most likeable guy.  Nicknamed "the Pedrobot," he often comes across as cold, dull, and like he takes himself a little too seriously.  He always seems to have a nasty look on his face - even when he's "smiling."

Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa are just the favorites...this season's MotoGP grid may not be large, but it's deep. The field includes several others who are fast, hungry, experienced in the lower classes, and if all goes their way just might be mixing it up for some wins. Guys like the fastest afro in Italy, Marco Simoncelli:

One-time world champ and Kentucky Kid Nick Hayden:

Or, possibly even French prettyboy Randy DePuniet:

There's someone we've missed, though, because we saved the best for last. A good ole 'merican, Texas Terror Ben Spies (speez)! Ben forged his reputation battling it out with, and beating, legendary Superbike racer Mat Mladin in the American class. Moved up to World Superbikes and won the Championship in his rookie year, on tracks he'd never seen before. Came to MotoGP the following season and was on the podium as high as second place, picking up Rookie of the Year along the way. Again, on tracks he'd never seen before.

Oh, and that was on a satellite bike.

This year he'll be on the factory M1, and starting from a level playing field as he'll have seen the tracks. Ben's used to conquering giants, and is already fast in practice. We'll be rooting for him all year!

So, that's the preview. The first race of the sure-to-be-spectacular 2011 MotoGP season will be in Qatar on March 20th, just under a month from now. Don't miss it!

Couldn't tuna just be tuna?

Readjusting to the food in America has been frustrating. Tonight is a perfect example. I bought tuna from a regular grocery store a few weeks back and tonight we decided to use a can of it. I wanted the Italian type that is a fillet in olive oil, but I couldn't find it, so I settled for Bumble Bee Chunk White Albacore. Afterall, it was on sale and we are trying to save a little money. I never thought to read the nutrition label.

Little did I know that tuna isn't just tuna here. Paul opened it tonight and found that it smelled like ammonia and it looked like mush. Then we noticed the ingredient list:

"Ingredients: white tuna, water. vegetable broth, salt, pyrophosphate added." And then in bold: "Contains tuna, soy." Well of course it should contain tuna, but soy????

It was nasty. Meanwhile, the can is loaded with health claims.

And there is this little blurb on the can too: "Bumble Bee has been committed to bringing premium seafood to America's tables since 1899. We are dedicated to the sustainability of ocean resources, eco-friendly manufacturing, and are proud to offer a full line of nutritious products and meal solutions."

Who cares who gave this the check for heart health, it takes terrible and is clearly highly processed. And I don't want a "meal solution." Lunch or dinner is not a problem. Couldn't it just be simple tuna of decent quality without a soy-containing vegetable broth? Bumble Bee, I wish you were committed to giving us good tasting tuna that hasn't been messed with.

I'm taking the remaining can back in protest.

I won't be buying simple things, especially things in cans, anymore without looking closely.

And I'm headed to the Italian market for some better tonno. And I really don't care if it costs $7. At least I know it will be good, and that's worth it to me.

Cheers to the memory of what tuna should be. Oh how I miss Italy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Great Grandpa Ventura

Some important news came in the mail yesterday about the patriarch of the Ventura clan, Paul's great grandpa Giovanni Ventura. Giovanni came to America in 1914 when he was 18 years old and settled in Ohio. Here's Paul with great-grandpa and great-grandma, Augusta Rose Longo, in their backyard in Ohio when Paul was a baby in the late 1970s. Giovanni and Augusta, who was originally from Sicily, met in the States.

This family shot shows Paul with his dad in the center, and moving to the left is Augusta, Paul's grandfather Art, and Giovanni on the far left. Thanks to Paul's mom Helen for finding these photos!

Great-grandpa was from Acquaviva delle Fonti, and when we visited the town in December to trace Paul's family roots, we found Giovanni's birth certificate. However, we were still on the hunt for some additional, essential information about great-grandpa. We needed to know when he became a US citizen. If Giovanni was naturalized after he and Augusta had Paul's grandfather Art, then Paul and I could claim dual-citizenship with Italy.

The official letter from the US Immigration and Naturalization office came in the mail yesterday, in response to our records request. To our delight, great-grandpa became a citizen in 1928, 14 years after he immigrated, which was well after he had Paul's grandpa!!

If we become dual-citizens, we can travel to and from Italy anytime without a visa, and work there as well. Plus we would quality for National health care and other benefits too. So naturally we're going to go for it.

Now to tackle the massive task of gathering all of the certified birth, marriage, divorce, and death records for the application. We'll keep you posted.

Great-grandpa Ventura, we're coming around full-circle!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pietro, Roberta, and white truffles...

Forgive the time between postings...we haven't forgotten about the site! It's just that Emily and I have been quite busy with everything involved in re-integrating ourselves back in the U.S.

No excuses though! We still have a ton of pictures, and things to write about, from Italy.

Like this, for instance. We lived in an apartment building in Bologna, at the end of a hallway on the fifth floor. Since there was no elevator, we spent a considerable amount of time every day going up and down the stairs - and often during that time, we'd see our next-door neighbors Pietro and Roberta.

Didn't take us long, of course, to talk about Italian food with them. And as soon as we did so, it became apparent that Pietro and Roberta are, like most Italians, very "into" their local food and justifiably proud of it.

I fooled you, though, because grapes and tangerines aren't what I want to write about.  I just wanted to break up the text with a picture.

Fruit is nice and all, but it's not very, well, special.  And Pietro is a man with an appreciation for the finer things.

Can you see what's in his hand? Pietro and Roberta came over for dinner one night in November, and November in Italy means one thing to foodies: tartufi bianchi. White truffles.

In the pic he's holding just one of them, because he stopped by before the dinner to show us (and let us smell) what we were in for. When showed up for dinner, though, Pietro brought 5 white truffles. Let me restate that. HE BROUGHT 5 WHITE TRUFFLES. We were dumbstruck - Italian white truffles sell for several thousand dollars per pound, even in Bologna. But, as is the Italian way, it's all about who you know. And Pietro's friend is a a truffle-hunter.

Pietro and Roberta, it should also be said, are wonderfully generous. So in addition to the tartufi, they brought all the accompaniments needed for a classic Bolognese feast: fresh tagliatelle pasta (made by Pietro's cousin), 4 different types of bread, eggs, wine, and mortadella. Oh, and the hardware needed to enjoy it!

You see, this wasn't just any old mortadella. It was mortadella di asino, which is typical of the region. So of course we needed the typical knife to cut it, which Pietro brandished when I opened the door. It made me jump and had me wondering for a second if I'd wronged him, because really it's less like a knife and more like a machete:

Oh yes, and if you don't speak Italian, "asino" means "donkey." As you can see, it's not called that because it's donkey-shaped or anything...yep, that's what it's made with. Being a fan of exotic meats, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

But the next course was even more enjoyable (especially for Emily). Fresh tagliatelle pasta with an obscene amount of white truffle on top. It didn't start out obscene, because I got the honor of the first turn with the truffle shaver, and I was a little timid. I mean, I didn't want to be rude - it felt like I was shaving money onto my plate.

Pietro would have none of that, though. He took the shaver over my plate and showed me how it was done:

The truffle was heavenly in smell alone....eating it on the pasta was amazing. I don't know what happens in the brain when you eat truffle, but it's more than just flavor, it releases endorphins and gives a head rush, a natural high. You can see it on our faces:

After the pasta, we fried up the eggs and ate them with, you guessed it, more truffle. Emily liked the eggs even more than the pasta.

All in all it was just an incredible meal. The funny thing is, though, it was really very simple, very few ingredients. But when your ingredients are this amazing on their own, we've learned that the simple dishes really are the best because it lets them shine.

I doubt we'll ever have white truffles like this again, because unless you know a truffle hunter it really is just crazy expensive to eat them in such quantity. But boy oh boy am I glad we got to fully experience them, if even just once.

I understand, now, why white truffles are so highly prized. If there's one on the counter in a paper sack, you can smell it through the whole kitchen. When you shave them over warm pasta, the perfume is overwhelming. And eating them gets you absolutely giddy from the overload of savory, earthy, intense umami taste. Heck, if we ever move back to Italy maybe I'll get a dog or two (used instead of pigs these days) and teach them to root out the white gold myself!

Ah, that would certainly be the life....

Grazie mille Pietro e Roberta! Recordiamo molto affettuosamente la nostra splendida cena con voi, e vi mandiamo un caro saluto!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cure for post-Italy blues

We are home-sick for Italy. At this point we are not really sure where our home is, but right now it still feels like Bologna and it's hard to not be there. Look for a post soon about what we are missing most about Bologna, and the differences between our life in Italy and our life in Los Angeles. But for now, I'd just like to share the best coping mechanism I have found so far: making fresh pasta. When I get sad, I've been getting out the rolling pin...

I actually never made fresh pasta while in Italy, which seems like a shame to me now that I have been practicing doing it and liking the results. But the kitchen we had there was limited, and there were lovely little shops selling fresh pasta on almost every street. The last (and only) time I made it was when I was working as a cook in Seattle in 2002. Coming back to our place in Los Angeles and finding our more spacious counter top and rolling pin, I was inspired. And I am finding that it really isn't hard at all, and not too time-consuming. Also, I have found that you don't need a machine to roll it out. The classic method is to do it by hand anyway. I am working on getting the noodles even thinner, and am excited to play around with ravioli and lasagna next. Let me know if you want to try it too and want recipes, or if you would like to come over, have some pasta, and help cheer us up!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Terra Madre

Today I realized why I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about Terra Madre, which was in late October. My fellowship was over at the end of November, and we always referred to Terra Madre as one of the last major things we would do during our stay. So when the event rolled around, denial set in that our time was almost over. In fact, we are still in denial that it is over now that we are already back in Los Angeles. In addition to the denial factor holding me back from writing, the event was just so big and overwhelming that I am still working to form my opinions about it.

Terra Madre is a 4 day, international Slow Food event that happens every 2 years in Torino. This year there were over 6,000 participants from over 160 countries. To give you a sense of the size of the event, here is the venue for the opening ceremonies, which were held in the arena built for the 2006 Olympic games.

The idea is to bring together food producers, activists, and educators from across the world to share experiences and generate new ideas. Here are representatives from each country as they entered the opening ceremony.

I had been accepted as a US delegate for the event, and Paul as an observer. This conference occurs side-by-side with an even bigger, public event called Salone del Gusto, which is an exposition of sustainably produced artisan foods and wines from across Italy and other parts of the world too. Needless to say, these 4 days were absolutely packed with opportunities to meet new people and try new things.

There is likely no other event worldwide where artisan food production is celebrated so vibrantly. If you don't believe me, all you need to do is see the photo of the d.j. at the Prosciutto di San Daniele stand.

The conference sessions were ongoing, and meanwhile there were other events and tastings occurring simultaneously. It was impossible to do and see even a small fraction of all of the things I would have liked to while there, which initially left me feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. But, as I reflect more on the event, I realize that despite some of the logistical constraints and ensuing sense of chaos, there were many moments where I was able to feel grounded and present, and make meaningful connections.

What I liked most about the experience were the things that made it most personal, such as:

--Spending a morning working as a chef delegate for the Eat-in, which was one of the youth organized conference events. As part of this event, Paul and I had the chance to spend the morning at a local, family-fun gastronomia, or specialty food store/deli. Giovanni, the owner of the store, welcomed us and gave us an insider's look into how he and his family run the business. Here we are with Giovanni and his wife, center, and one of the cooks (right).

Here I am inside the shop with Giovanni and Laura, a student from the University of Gastronomic Sciences, who was also appointed as a chef-delegate to the gastronomia.

Behind the scenes, in the kitchen, we learned how to make a number of their specialty dishes, including bagna cauda and lasagna Bolognese.

Here I am learning how to make an insalata russa and Paul learning how to use the slicer.

This food was shared at the Eat-in event, which is like a cross between a protest and a potluck, similar to the events we planned across the US during the Time for Lunch campaign in 2009 when we worked to raise awareness about improving school food. The Terra Madre Eat-in was a chance to network with other youth activists and to partner with the community in Torino, such as with Giovanni, who joined us for lunch.

--Another one of my favorite Terra Madre experiences was helping my friend from Slow Food Bologna, Hande, conduct interviews and surveys for a project she developed to ask participants from various cultures about their views on food and health. Here I am with Hande interviewing an indigenous woman from Costa Rica who had a number of very valuable insights.

--I also really appreciated the chance to meet other Slow Food leaders at the US Chapter Leaders meeting.

Here I am with some of the other leaders from the Southern California area.

--Despite its size, Salone del Gusto started to come alive with personal connections. Paul, knowing his family was from Puglia, spent quite a bit of time in the section that featured foods from that region. He even found a stand featuring red onions from Acqua Viva delle Fonti, the small town where his great grandfather was born.

At that stand, Paul met Angelo, who we later coincidentally met while in Acqua Viva delle Fonti. As Paul mentioned in his post on our trip to find his family roots, Angelo turned out to be a very close friend of our new relatives.

--Even standing in lines led to random personal connections. One day, in line for an espresso, I met Alexandra Agajanian. It turns out that she is also based in Los Angeles and works for SEE-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles), the non-profit that supports the Hollywood Farmer's Market and other local markets and programs. Alexandra was handing out gifts from the farmers, such as the little bag of pistachios that she proudly shared with me. After 10 months away from home, it warmed my heart to randomly receive a gift from the farmers at my favorite hometown market.

--Speaking of connections, I do also want to mention an important new relationship between Paul and some very smelly French cheese. I couldn't appreciate it quite as much as he could, but trust me, that cheese brought Paul some serious joy. It is not that I don't like smelly cheese, but when I say that this was strong, I mean strong to a whole new level that I never knew was possible.

In four days I think he must have visited the stand at least 8 times.

So as you can see, even though we didn't hear all of the speakers we hoped to hear, participate in all of the workshops we wanted to, meet all of the people we could have, or taste all of the things that were offered, we managed to have very personal, unforgettable Terra Madre experience.