martedì 29 gennaio 2013

hey, remember that time?

How I got where I am, regardless of where I actually am, is and always has been a long and convoluted story that I usually forget to tell and, like every long and convoluted story it may deserve to be told. At least parts of it, I guess. Now that I'm about to leave Italy again, this time for Cambridge (why? I have very little idea, guess I'll figure out in a hopefully short wile), I realized that my year in Sacramento wasn't just hella fun, it also left me with some stories that I want to tell the iternet too (even though I'm pretty sure I have less readers here than people I told those stories in real life), guess if I want to become some sort a writer "when I grow up" I need to use all the stories I have at least for practice.

Man that was a boring intro, guess I'll just start over with a new post once I figure out where to begins (the beginning? may be to obvious)

mercoledì 22 agosto 2012

Explosions and badassery, he wrote

Fact: in the summer of 2010 the world saw what passed to the history textbook as one of the bigger mass cinematic erection humanity ever experienced, when millions of us (I'm talking about my half of the species) prepared ourselves to experience what was promised as one of the manliest, more testosteronic and man-gasm inducing movies ever made: The Expendables, starring EVERY FUCKING ONE (or almost everyone). Have I been too graphic? probably, I'll calm down.

btw this post is about the Expendables 2

The first Expendables was, kind of disappointingly, just ok. Maybe very ok? maybe, even though I was quite entertained and I left the theater thinking that those euros were well spent, that wasn't enough, that wasn't what I wanted to see or at least not entirely. I'm not saying it was a bad film, but

what did we want from it? well I can tell you what I wanted, with three examples:

- Demolition Man: one of my favorite action movies and somewhere in my top 20 favorite movies ever, no jokes. It has a surprisingly interesting setting and a nice story, more than we usually ask for, and both acting and directing are pretty good for the genre. It's the classic example of not-so-dumb action movie, it can be cheesy sometimes and won't be as good without the action vibe, but his let's call it naivite is almost a plus and surely a breath of fresh air when compared to other movie with the same themes (basically violence, freedom and so called uthopian futures). Could the Expandables have been like this? no, no one really believed it and I don't think anyone involved in the movie had that in mind, even though you can sense that they tried to flesh out (poorly) a story that dealt with some sort of issues, I guess that's what action movies writers do these days (I haven't seen action movies in a while, I have to admit).

- Commando: a perfect example of tight script if there ever was one, it always cracks me up that at the usual setting "I kidnapped your defenseless daughter to what you're told or she dies" (pretty common in one variant or the other) Schwarznegger's charachter responds with a "fuck you" and a trail of corpses. Fuck. Yeah. Would that have been a good Expandables movie? yes, kinda, it would've been fun to watch but a little odd since apart from some memorably hilarious scenes Commando is actually a pretty serious film, and now I'm almost getting to the point.

- the Crank series: a fantastic first movie and an even better sequel where you laugh, point you finger at the screen and yell something inintelligible even if you're the more polite gentleman of Britain, it's 90% well shot, well lit, super awesome action and/or as-explicit-as-it-gets sex and 10% memorable scenes where you get to feel how ludicrous the movie is, and how good does it feel to watch a movie that, for once, doesn't take itself seriously. I'm not saying every action movie has to be like this (though they should mostly be like this, I feel, and leave the serious vibe to directors that know how to handle it), but Expendables HAD TO.

The idea of getting all those guys back was awesome but also, somehow, funny, ludicrous if you want, it had to be exposed by themselves as something that its possible only if you do it for fun, as a throwback to a different age. I understand you have to somehow get to speed with the action movies that are being shot today, but at the same time having a very serious, story driven drama with action was a very bad way to use all those guys. It's not a coincidence if you almost only see Statham and Stallone, because in that kind of movie you need a protagonist, a sidekick, a villain and the rest (unless you're very skilled) can only have supporting roles. You need a somewhat silly movie to have all the freedom you need, and the first Expendables wasn't silly enough.

so, what about the Expendables 2? well, this one is COMPLETELY AWESOME AND IT GET'S EVERYTHING RIGHT! It's silly, over the top, action-PACKED (and I mean almost 75% of the movie, I think) and we're talking well-shot and creative action, not shaky camera and kind-of-already-seen action (like, sadly, in the first Expendables), it's everything we really wanted and more (trust me, it's really more than you could imagine if noone spoilers it). You finally get to feel all the characters thanks to some nice and personal scenes where everyone interacts in a way that shows the camaraderie and friendship that we were mostly told they shared in the first movie, and in an action packed movie where it could be hard to relate or even just care for the characters those little moments you get to spend with them are crucial to be invested in what happens later when they are in the middle of a bullet rain. True, you never have the feeling they're going to die (with a few exceptions, but we're still talking of a silly movie), but without getting to know them a little bit most of the film could get almost boring (well that's not entirely true since the action is really well written, but it's still nice). Is there anything left to say? well from a technical point of view, not that I'm an expert but is easy to tell, the movie is better than is predecessor, and really, I don't see how anyone could not like it. It would help if you loved the old Stallone, Schwarznegger & co. movies but it's not mandatory, just go see it.

mercoledì 1 agosto 2012

looks like this is another blog I'm not updating

Soooo instead of giving up I may switch it to an all-purpose blog (wasn't it already? well ok maybe)

I already feel better

I may talk about movies! why not, everyoen likes movies!

lunedì 12 marzo 2012

[recipe] the most american pasta you'll find in Italy

Fact: everything is better with bacon and you can't go wrong if you add a few eggs, ever thought about making a pasta with those things? well, good news is there is already one and it's delicious, and today I'm going to show you how to do it. Before that, as always, a little bit of history or at least a believable backstory for this particular recipe that may actually be just a legend, but ehy, This is the West, sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend (cit.).

During World War II, after Italy changed side or surrendered depending on how you tell the story, the american army started getting it back from the Nazis starting from the South and going North, region after region and city after city (with the help of the italian resistance, but that's another story). By the time they got to Rome they decided, one particular night, to have a little italian dinner party with all the big names in the army and someone thought "ehy, we are in Italy! they may not be very good soldiers but they can cook, right? let's find an italian cook and have him make us something italian!". Great idea, but they didn't take in account another quality we italians have: we are very good at coming up with good ideas at the last minute. So this random guy (not even sure he was a real cook, I like to think he just convinced the american he was one) gets the job and immediately has to solve a problem: being it wartime resources were scarce to say the least and sure there wasn't fresh local food available on short notice, so he looked instead into what sort of food the americans had with them and found basically two things, bacon and eggs. He may not have cooked a real traditional italian dish that night like the americans wanted, but that's how one of the most popular and beloved italian ways to cook pasta today was born: the Carbonara.


Like I said you won't need a lot more than pasta, bacon and eggs, just some parmesan and black pepper, but since we are in America some of those ingredients may need some preparation. Let's start with the parmesan:

I promised myself not to be a snob about food here in the US but a little piece of my soul died when I bought this

In italy you would be able to buy a piece of actual parmesan and grate it yourself with a specific tool (or a saw-like knife), here the best thing you can do is buy some shredded parmesan and then chop it more finely with a knife. It's kind of  a dull work to do, but it really needs to be done or the cheese won't melt properly and you'll end up with chunks of it instead of the creamy sauce you want. I'm not sure the pictures shows what I'm talking about, so if you want better recipes in the future you may consider buying me a good smartphone.Some people use "pecorino" cheese or a blend of it and parmesan, remember that this other cheese is super salty so add less salt to the boiling water if you're deciding to use it

Bacon I'm going to miss you so much I may just move to America for good after the PhD is over

Choose the thickest and less fatty bacon you can find, and consider cutting out some of the fat if you're not able to do so. If you find a big piece of bacon instead of the usual stripes it's your lucky day: chop it in little cubes and your carbonara will look even more italian.

What do you do with the whites? well if you're not into betting with your friends that you can chug weird stuff try this recipe for french meringues 

You know how to separate the yolk from the white of an egg, right? if not youtube will come to your help, as always. Now mix the yolks with a whip if you have it since with a fork it would be harder to get an homogeneous result, and that's critically important. How many yolks should you use? I usually go with two for each person, and adjust cheese and bacon accordingly.

don't mix too strongly but try to get an uniform liquid

Add the parmesan and the black pepper, remember to be generous with them, and you can move on to the next step.


Ok put the pot with the water over the fire (you can add the salt now but usually that's something you do when it starts boiling, it saves time) and start cooking the bacon

Are the pigs here in the US that big? I still don't understand why bacon is so different here than it is in Italy. You know, we have pigs too and technically our "pancetta" is bacon, but there is so much less fat I still can't believe it comes from the same animal and is the same cut of meat

I recommend a mid-low fire under the bacon so that it can cook evenly and brown up without burning. When it's ready you can, if you don't want to have an heart attack, drain some of the fat. Before I move on to the final stage I need to explain you some of the science behind this recipe (if you speak italian go to this blog, he would do a better job and that's where I refined my recipe anyway). I'll make it simple, you have three ingredients: the pasta, that cooks at 100 celsius, the bacon, that cooks at an even higher temperature, and the yolks that cook between 60 and 70 celsius but start to solidify after that temperature (and we want a creamy sauce!). How do we solve this conundrum? (also, is conundrum the appropriate word here?)

Before you throw the pasta in the bowl give a last little mix at the yolks

Simple, when the pasta is ready drain it and place it in the same bowl where the yolks are, add some cooking water that you saved (I should I've said that before? well you should have read the recipe before trying it) and mix it all: the heath of the pasta will cook the yolks without solidifying them and you'll have a deliciously creamy egg sauce. Don't mix the bacon now, since an oily pasta would not attach to the egg very well.

If your bowl is big enough, mine wasn't, you can add the bacon now and mix all the ingredients together for the final step of this recipe. I had to put the pasta back in the pot but at this point was "cold" enough so it didn't ruined the eggs. Now, after a final mix you should get this

Which is simply paradise for your taste buds, and doesn't hurt the eyes too! look at it up close

As a friend of mine called it, here's the breakfast pasta!

It's more common to use long pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine, but since I don't trust the american long pasta enough (it tends to be sticky and cook unevenly) I decided for this particular shape, "rotini", that's close enough to "fusilli". You can try long pasta, especially if you know a brand that makes a good one, but if you're opting for a short kind use this or a similar one.


There's one other thing that's italian but also american (and certainly inspired by americans), and what's more appropriate than that if you're enoying a truly italo-american pasta? yes, I'm talking about those films

I started the post with a quote from a western and I'm ending it with this movie advice, I just realized I should have used spaghetti after all 

Which, and I think everyone agrees with me, are awesome enough to go with a terrific dinner like the one you just cooked. 

you liked this recipe? you'll find  more here

mercoledì 29 febbraio 2012

[recipe] The stuff dreams (and Lasagne) are made of

Fact: ragú, also "italian meatsauce", also "bolognese sauce" (see below), also "God's favourite meal" is the most widespread and beloved italian food after pizza, and you can find it in every italian region and in an incredible number of different recipes as the main ingredient. Actually, this is not entirely true since there is not just one ragú but tens and tens of different kinds of meatsauce that vary in type of meat used, tomato-meat ratio, spices and so on (for example in Parma they don't use the tomato and in Sicily the ragu is somehow similar to the "meatballs sauce" that's considered italian, and it's not, in America, and that's probably where it came from). Nonetheless, they're all called the same and there's somehow an agreement between us to consider them one single thing that accepts huge variations. But enough with the Anthropology lesson and let's get to work.


if you can get fresh rosemary and sage do that, it would be better

First things first: the ragú I'm going to show you how to cook comes essentially from the far Nort-East of Italy, a region called Friuli, and more specifically from my father, so it will be different from what is considered the "classic" ragú that traditionally comes from Bologna (and that's what "bolognese sauce" is loosely based on). Still, it would be orders of magnitude better than every "spaghetti bolognese" you will find here in the US and I can assure you friends from all Italy liked it, but bear in mind that what I'm going to teach you is a bit of my household's cousine, not an italian recipe set in stone. I'm also going to use ingredients easy to find here so don't worry about spending too much money or having to go crazy to find them. The only thing it would be hard for you to find is, probably, the time: this recipe needs 3/4 hours to be completed. Don't be scared, for most of the time it will cook by itself, but since it will need the occasional stirring you'll have to be around for the whole time. It is, in fact, something italian moms (or dads) do on Sunday morning that will be then frozed or put in vacuum jars and last for weeks, so apron up! and prepare yourself to become a real italian mom.

the ingredients:

- ground beef and ground pork, half and half
- tomato sauce and whole peeled tomatoes, 1/3 and 2/3
- red wine
- finely chopped garlic, celery, red onion and carrot
- rosemary and sage
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt (and sugar, see below)

Notice that I haven't specified the quantities, that's because the only thing that matters is the meat-to-tomato ratio which for this recipe is 50-50 (like I said before this varies in other kinds of ragú), so basically it all depends on how much ragú you want to make. This time I used 2.4 lbs of meat and that resulted in seven servings of ragú, from past experiences I can tell you that it would also be good for one big tray of Lasagne and two/three spare servings. Remember that the weight written on tomato cans includes the water, which will evaporate, so divide it by half when you do the math. My advice is to do use at least 1.5 lbs of meat, since it's a lot of work and if you froze it or put it under vacuum it would last for months and you'll always have a ready to use sauce for a delicious quick pasta (and we all know that's the best fast food there is).

The only thing you need to do before start cooking apart from finely chopping the vegetables (you can leave some bigger chunks of carrot if you want, I don't) is mixing the beef and the pork using your hands, it's important that you do a good job here so don't halfass it

getting dirty in the kitchen: that's the italian way

I like to add the garlic now and mix it to the meat, but you can also put it in later with the other spices. About garlic: there's a legend around that garlic makes your breath stinks, it's (almost) a lie and there's a simple way to avoid that. Instead of just chopping the entire garlic peel it and then open it with a knife

you scoundrel! it's your fault if people despise the delicious garlic!

See that little green bastard inside? that's what's causing your bad breath. I think the reason is that we are unable to properly digest it, so when it goes in our stomach bad things happen and the result is that the gasses that come out (remember: bad breath is mostly caused by digestion gasses, not just by what stays between our teeth or on our tongue) are especially dreadful. lose that little green devil before chopping the garlic and the problem will be solved. That applies to every time you use garlic everywhere, of course.


btw the correct amount of vegetables to sautee is "enough to cover the bottom"

Sautee the celery, the carrot and the red onion on a high flame and don't be scared of using a good amount of olive oil, stir from time to time and remember that it would be ready when the onions turn to a light gold color (brown would be late, black too late), when that happens add the meat

time to get this homo looking meat to lose the pink!

Now the tricky part: you have to use brute force and a wooden spoon to mix the whole thing for a few minutes until the meat goes from pink to a greyish brown and starts to break down in little chunks. Be careful not to get boiling oil on your hands (but if that happens remember that you're a tough italian mom, the pain can't stop you). What you want to get is this

aaand that's better


Now it starts to get really easy, just open the bottle of wine and drown it. What kind of wine should you use? I say you shouldn't use a wine you wouldn't drink but it's a waste to use a wine you would want to.

Don't use a very strong scented wine since something of it will actually remain and  not evaporate. I chose a Merlot for that reason (also, kangaroos are cute)

The whole reason behind the wine is that the buthanol contained in it (a specific kind of alcohol) boils at around 140 celsius, which is the temperature that triggers the Maillard reaction. The reasons why you would want to do that are pretty much self evident if you ever had a good burger, since it's basically what happens when you get that delicious brown on the exterior of the meat. Anyway, let's proceed.

how much is 140 Celsius in Fahrenheit? simple, is "start using the metric system already you barbarians" degrees

The wine has to be just enough to cover the meat entirely but having it just below the surface, in this case I needed a whole bottle but you can usually save some. Now you'll have 15/20 minutes of time till the wine evaporates, and it needs just one or two stirrings (so you can have that glass of wine and maybe turn on the tv and relax a little bit).


Now it's time for tomato and spices, so when the meat is dry again add the tomato first

see how the meat on the right is brown? that's the wine that worked his magic

mix and then add the spices, a couple pinches of salt and, but be careful, a little bit of sugar (a teaspoon would be enough) that would help contrast the acidity of the tomato

be generous with sage and rosemary, they will add a very important note to the ragú

Now you just have to mix the whole thing a little bit and then your work is almost done, because when you have this

I know it doesn't look good, but give him some time

The ragú will basically cook itself, you just have to cover the pot and turn down the flame close to the minimum. I'm going to repeat it because is incredibly important: turn down the flame to a very very low setting

this is not an accident, you have to leave a little opening instead of cover the thing entirely (remember that a lot of water has to evaporate now)


So now you have to wait and occasionally stir the ragú. For how long you will have to do that? let's say that the ragú I made yesterday cooked for three hours, and even lesser amounts would need at least two. So sit down on your sofa, relax, drink a beer and see a movie or two. Here are three of my all time favourites to help you choose:

I'm completely serious

Remember to stir the ragú from time to time (every 20/30 minutes or so), towards the end you can even add a little bit of olive oil, especially if you have a good one (the Bertolli you see in the first picture is a good compromise between taste and price here in the US) and let it cook on it for the last 20 minutes. After your long wait you'll finally get this

My mouth is watering right now, and trust me you will have to fight the impulse of just eating it by itself

which is unbelievably delicious, and I really can't be more precise about his taste. The only thing left do to is to store it, and I personally prefer to put it under vacuum instead of froze it so it will be quicker to use in the future. I think every grocery store sells those kinds of jars

Close them carefully and then boil the jars for 20/30 minutes, all the air will come out and the ragú will be like fresh and ready to use for months. Of course you can always use it right now (in case let it rest for at least half an hour), for a pasta or for a tray of lasagne (I'll give you the full recipe another time) or basically for anything you want since it's really the most versatile sauce there is and will make everything better. Everything.

Ok I hope you read the whole thing and want to try it sometimes, I know it's very long and kind of a half recipe, since you'll always have to use the ragú with something else, but I hope you know how to cook pasta. If you don't, or even if you think you do but really don't, see this video (ok see the video anyway IT'S IMPORTANT, remember you don't really need butter oil and cheese at the end). Next recipes will be easier and quicker, but this was so important that I wanted to start with it.

you liked this recipe? you'll find  more here

martedì 28 febbraio 2012

A little bit of Italy in your kitchens

For some reasons it would be too long to explain I've decided to write down in this blog something that you, my friends the americans, may find interesting: italian recipes. I'm not talking about "italoamerican" recipes, things you think are italian but in fact you can't find in Italy, like Alfredo's sauce or meatball sauce, or that thing you think is a Lasagna (and has mozzarella in it, I guess, anyway WRONG). What I'm about to share, and keep in mind that I love american food, are some "italian italian" recipes, or if you prefer "how we cook stuff back there". Of course italian cousine is regional before national, so most of them will be from the northern Italy (where I'm from) but I've learned a lot from friends, so don't worry there will be something from south and center italy too. I may even have friends give me some recipes and then try them out and translate, so feel free to send me requests if you want.

what's coming soon (if there's a link follow it and you'll find the recipe)

- ragú (italian meatsauce)
- pasta alla carbonara
- lasagne
- canederli
- saffron risotto (or risotto "alla milanese")
- trick for roasted potatoes

sabato 18 febbraio 2012

the Best Burger in the World

Fact: the hamburger is the most valuable contribution America made in all her history to world gastronomy, and if you want to make fun of this country for that well, sir, you're an idiot: it is a brilliant combo and one of the best food ever to be invented (and remember, I was born and raised in Italy).

remember that episode? that's how I feel every time I have a not-so-great burger, my grandpa's shoes

There's one problem though, since no one has the perfect recipe, and even a simple food like the hamburger can be made in hundreds of different ways, it's easy to find very crappy burgers and, sadly, kind of rare to find the very good ones. What kind of meat? what kind of bread? pickles or tomatoes? both? mayo, ketchup or none of them? red onions or white onions? and you can always add other ingredients to the basic mix, like bacon, cheese or peanut butter (I wish I were joking). I'm not going to write down how I think a burger is supposed to be though, instead I'll collect in this post all the places in the planet where I had a notable burger (linking more exhaustive reviews I'll do when I have the time), suggestions are more than welcome.


The Pearl, San Francisco, California
Nationwide Freezer Meats, Sacramento, California
Burgers & Brew, Sacramento, California
Father's Office, Santa Monica, California


The Brown Bear, London


the little burger stall in front of the leaning tower, Pisa, Toscana
Margy Burger, Milano, Lombardia

the current #1 BURGER IN THE FREAKING WORLD is: The Brown Bear, London, UK