Winter is coming and we all need something hot and nice to warm us up. What is better than a Minestrone soup? It is a easy dish from Northern Italy, typical of winter season. You can put in it more or less what you want, from beans to zucchini, from lentils to potatoes. If you want to use dried beans or lentils, you just have to remember to leave them in a bowl with some water for at least two hours before beginning to prepare your soup.
Here is my soup. Begin with a soffritto: put onions on olive oil, and add celery and carrots.
You can add on it any vegetable you like: zucchini, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, peas.. etc.
At this point it is time to put the legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya beans, what you want is fine! The more varieties of legumes, the better your minestrone will be! Just add them with at least two cups of water, and some salt.
You have to stir your soup once in a while and let the beans and lentils cook for at least half an hour. Then, depending on your taste, you can add more water to make it more “minestrone” or let all the water evaporate to make it more “soup”.
Risotto is a very common food in Italy, especially during the winter. Risotto is a different way of thinking the rice – rather than a side dish, it makes an amazing main course.
It is very important to find the right white rice to make risotto. The principal varieties are Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano. Once you have the rice, the limit is the sky! In fact, once you get the feel for the basic steps of making the risotto, you can add almost any combination of flavors.
Here I’ll present one of my favorite: risotto with apples and speck ham. It is made up of typical ingredients from north regions of Italy. Speck ham is a type of prosciutto which is similar to bacon, and it is a very tasty ham. This risotto has a very delicate and unusual flavor, where the sweet taste of apples is exalted by the strong taste of speck ham.
Here are the ingredients for 4 serves:
2 cups of rice
1 small onion
2 tablespoons butter
8 cups vegetable stock
1 cup Parmesan
4 oz speck ham
2 cups white or red wine
Cut the speck ham in small pieces.
Cut the apples and put them into a pot with a cup of wine, and let them cook for about 15 minutes.
After having talked about the quintessential Italian food, I feel ready to get personal, and to talk about a food which is typical of my city.
I come from a small and nice city in the center of Italy, called Ascoli Piceno. It is a medieval city where it seems that time has stood still. Its People Square is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.
The city is not well known even inside Italy, but its name sounds definitely familiar to all Italians because of the Ascolane Stuffed Olives (Olive all’Ascolana in Italian). They are a perfect appetizer food, and they are normally eaten as antipasto or side dish during important occasion, like Christmas or Easter lunch.
The Ascolane Stuffed Olives are olives which are stuffed with three kinds of meat: chicken, beef and pork. They are breaded and then fried.
This is how they look like. They are just amazing.
Unfortunately, they are not very easy to make, but not impossible as well. To explain you the recipe, I’ll introduce here a very special guest: my Grandma Anna. She has made Ascolane Stuffed Olives all her life long, and some years ago my sister and I decided to record this precious piece of information. Here you can see my Grandma Anna making stuffed olives, with translation in English:
This is a challenge for you: do you feel ready to try to be a real “Italian Grandma” in order to taste this amazing appetizer??
If you don’t feel ready yet, you can find a (kind of) stuffed olives at Eataly NYC, in 200 Fifth Avenue.
But my Grandma’s olives (and yours) will definitely taste better!
As learned from the women of Sex and the City, dating in New York City can be rough. It’s even rougher when you’re a college student, living on a college student budget. If your parents are anything like mine, they are reluctant to give you much “food money” because of the amount they’re already spending on your meal plan. With that being said, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country doesn’t help much either. No one wants to blow his or her entire weekly allowance on a first date. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for “wining and dining.”
Don’t worry, though, there is hope! Believe it or not, nice date spots that won’t break the bank exist. So, in an effort to ensure that you don’t disappoint your date and get to see them again, I’ve compiled a list of tasty (cheap!) spots.
CREAMLINE NYC in Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market is an experience in and of itself. Inside its brick walls lie dozens of restaurants and shops. One of which, is the all-American restaurant, Creamline. From peanut butter/jelly/banana sandwiches to grilled cheese fingers to fried oreos, Creamline NYC satisfies all of our childhood cravings. Follow dinner with a walk on the High Line, which is right to the market. Trust me, you’ll need to walk off this meal.
P.S. DO NOT skip the malted milkshake. Worth every calorie.
Treat yourself, and your date, to some mouthwatering dumplings at Mimi Cheng’s. My personal fave is the steamed ‘Reinvented Classic’ dumpling, made with pork and baby bok choy. The laid back environment is the perfect place to bring someone you’re just starting to get to know. For dessert, order the caramel apple pie dumplings- they are a must-have!!
S’Mac, aka Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese, is basically every mac and cheese lover’s dream come true. They offer specialty mac and cheeses and made-to-order mac and cheeses. For me, the best option is the build your own mac and cheese. With 15 cheeses, 4 herbs, 12 veggies/condiments, and 6 proteins to choose from, there is something for everyone. It’ll be hard for your date not to be satisfied. And, if you’re “of age,” follow dinner with drinks at one of the quirky bars that the East Village has to offer.
As long as Gaia exists, there’s no need to spend $25 on a plate of pasta at some fancy Italian restaurant. This little hole in the wall serves up prime Italian food with rich flavors. My personal favorite is the spinach and ricotta gnocchi; it’s the perfect consistency! They also do daily pasta specials, which keeps things interesting (hopefully like your date).
Warning: they do close relatively early and fills up quickly, so plan ahead, and make a reservation!!
Italians take food very seriously. We don’t make jokes about food, we consider it almost a sacred subject. There are some things that you cannot say to an Italian without making him or her explaining how the risotto you have just eaten is not the real one and what the real lasagne should look like. That’s why when an American friend of mine told me that she once “made a pizza” by buying a Pita bread and putting cheese on it, I couldn’t accept the fact the she believed to have made a pizza. I knew I had to do something, and there was only one thing I had to do: to make a Pizza.
Pizza is the most famous Italian food in the world, so famous that it is not even necessarily associated with Italy anymore. But in Italy, it is crystal clear that pizza is our creation, and therefore we feel like the only ones to have the right to talk about it.
In Italy, young people usually go to a pizzeria to eat pizza once a week, as the most normal social event you can imagine. It’s cheap and good, so why not? But a lot of people are able to make their own pizza as well, especially when you realize how easy it is. So, are you ready?
The first thing to do is the pizza dough. Here is what you need:
Birthday brunches are always fun, and this past week I went to Del Posto in Chelsea, NYC, and had an amazing Italian dining experience. According to Opentable, “Del Posto is the first Italian restaurant in almost 40 years to be awarded 4 stars from the New York Times,” and it surely did meet that expectation of a highly rated Italian restaurant in NYC.
Del Posto’s brunch/lunch prix-fixe price is at $49 and consists of three courses with your choice of antipasto, secondo, and dolce. You can also get pasta for the entire table for $10 per person, though it is a bit annoying for experimental diners like me, who would like to have everyone order a different kind of pasta so that everyone could try, instead of having to choose one for all.
Enough complaining, the following photos show the artful plating that amounted to the incredibly savory experience. The names of the food are as follows (in order of appearance): Chef’s special appetizer assortment (changes daily I suppose), Antipastis-Lobster alla Cesare, Truffled Beef Carne Cruda, Primi-Pumpkin Capellacci, Secondi-Rare Atlantic Salmon, Dolcis-Chef’s Special (some form of toasted apple crumble with ice cream) and Fette Biscottate.
Of course, long live pizza, but once in a while, exploring other Italian food is never a bad idea. I would definitely recommend going for lunch rather than dinner if you just want the experience as their prix-fixe is much cheaper during lunch, though it is still pricey. For more detailed info for each food item, check my foodstagram ! or delposto.com/menu/
After watching this Munchies clip that interviewed the two owners of The Meatball Shop in New York, I went all the way to their original location on the lower East Side the next day. And then two more times after that.
First thing that I have to say after visiting three times is: GET THEIR ORIGINAL BEEF MEATBALLS. They offer a variety of options you can mix and match, which could be confusing for the first time. For the meatballs, you can get beef, spicy pork, chicken, veggie (but if you’re a vegetarian, there are definitely better places to go), sometimes lamb depending on the day.
And you can get it with different kinds of pasta, mashed potatoes, daily risotto, or you can always stick to “Naked Balls” (four good old meatballs). Just to make the process of ordering meatballs even more complicated, you can also select sauce! Usually the waitress would recommend a certain sauce that goes with the kind of meatball you want. For first-timers, I would suggest sticking to the tomato sauce, with the beef meatballs. It’s also the lighter option. I also tried the mushroom sauce – it was creamy, but nothing impressive.
“The kitchen sink” is another option they offer. 3 balls + sauce + chef’s selection of daily greens. Apparently it’s what the owner of the shop eats, as pointed out in the video. So of course I had to try it despite its unappetizing name. (And it was good!)
What both my friend and I loved about the Meatball Shop is the homey feel of the dishes. If you order the “Naked Balls”, it comes in a small bowl with meatballs and sauce, and a piece of bread on top. If you order pasta or mashed potatoes along with your meatballs, you have the option to have the pasta under the meatballs. Putting everything into one bowl makes the experience of dining out very un-pretencious and homey.
The price is another thing that is worth pointing out. You can easily spend less than 15 dollars and get an extremely satisfying, protein-packed meal at the Meatball Shop. Despite the store’s popularity and its opening of a few other locations, the price remained the same.
The taste of the meatball was decent, but not as memorable as I hoped for it to be. Out of the three kinds I’ve tried – beef, spicy pork, and daily special “Shepherd’s pie” – I recommend the first two. While in general, the meatballs may not necessarily make you go “wow this is the best meatball I’ve ever tasted”, considering the low price and the hip and trendy ambiance of the place, going to the Meatball Shop with friends or a date will not disappoint. But be prepared for the waitresses to hint for you to leave, since the line of customers would already be forming outside.
Depending on the time that you go, it could be quite loud due to the large amount of customers in the store. For example, on a Friday night, one may find it hard to hear from across the table. Therefore, if one wants a more quiet tasting experience, going for lunch could be wiser. They also offer weekend brunch options.
No one usually looks to a marketplace for a great date night. There are too many people just standing around clogging the aisles with their hungry, indecisive bodies. There are too many kids running around screaming and begging for ice cream. But take a step into Eataly and you might see more than just a market.
Though there are many great restaurants in Eataly, I went to Manzo. Service was friendly and attentive. Waiters waltzed in between tables, ties dangling from their necks, and two men in suits strolled around, making sure everything was in order. The staff carried themselves with an air of professionalism, not often akin to marketplaces. After a while, I got the sense that the restaurant was not built in the market; rather the market was built around the restaurant.
I started my meal with a plate of carpaccio. The plate was covered entirely in thin circles of meat, striped here and there with tender, marbled fat. Peppered across the dish, shards of parmigiano reggiano provided a salty and nutty compliment to the meat. A clump of watercress rested in the center. The color and the taste of its citrus vinaigrette gave a pleasant contrast to the slices of meat. I meant to take a picture of the carpaccio, for it looked quite lovely. Yet, I already finished half the dish before I remembered to do so.
Next -and yes, I did get a picture of this one – I had a duck ragu with foie gras. The very essence of duck seemed to have soaked into the casarecce pasta. The dish was indescribably savory, rich, and hearty, but delicate as well. It was the type of dish you could picture both in the fanciest of restaurants and at a casual meal made by that great aunt from Sicily, who wanted to visit you while she was in New York even though you’ve really only seen her once or twice in your lifetime. Since I find myself grasping for words to describe this ragu, take a look at the picture and go to Manzo to get it for yourself.
At last, I got a wonderful lemon meringue, appropriately named Leggero. That’s Italian for “light.” Topping the meringue was a sweet blackberry swirl, a fresh blackberry, a tangy dab of lemon gelato, and a few sprigs of basil. Indeed it was a lemon meringue, but the basil made the dish. It added a certain complexity to the dish that forced you to keep eating in order to understand how it fit so well on top of a dessert. All in all, I found the meringue to be a delightful, palate-cleansing end to the meal. And just look at it. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
Manzo is a gem hidden in plain sight. Ignorant of the bustling shoppers all around, this restaurant provides a warm and friendly dining experience with tastes to satisfy most everyone…except vegetarians. Sorry, Manzo’s specialty is meat.
Max Soha on 123th and Amsterdam Ave. is a cozy little Italian place that feels extremely homey. A popular spots for couples as well as small groups, it does get pretty packed easily during dinner time.
The appetizers here have pretty small portions. So if you’re in a group of more than 3, you might want to ask the waiter about the portion.
The pastas here are all amazing! ”La Pugliese” – the phrase itself meaning a region in Southern Italy – has shell pasta and broccoli rabe, Italian spicy sauge. It is a pleasant surprise to see a decent amount of vegetables (broccoli rabe) put into pasta – usually it is used more or less as a decorations. It is mixed with the pasta thoroughly. The sausage is spicier than expected but still delicious. The whole dish is extremely rich in flavor, yet not too salty. The only vice might be that it might get a little oily as you get towards the bottom.
Also, the plates they use for each customer is different. And all of them are gorgeous!! This definitely highlights a homemade feel for the dishes.
Here’s a picture.
Basically all pasta dishes are recommended. Linguine del Pascatore is a seafood pasta dish with homemade black linguine. This one is definitely worth a try! If you’re feeling less adventurous, Fettuccine al sugo Toscano – with Max’s signature meat sauce is a safe and delicious bet, so is the Lasagna “mom’s style”. All pastas are around $8-$14.
With winter quickly descending on the cold, steel structures of the city, the last sight I expected to see from Rafele Ristorante was a warm, summery environment. But look for yourself.
Thick, green stalks and stems draping over the shelves. Cute, little flowers poking up from the center of the rustic, wooden tables. Bottles of wine and olive oil lining the walls. I can’t help but to think of a warm meal in a summer garden in Tuscany. Although I have never had the pleasure of visiting Italy, Rafele Ristorante brought a little piece of Italy to America, almost as good as a real trip.
For my appetizer, I had burrata frita. Burrata is a soft, buttery combination of mozzarella and cream, and of course, frita means fried. So yes, I just ate fried cheese. Personally, I could eat cheese all day in replacement of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the restaurant fried it for me. Everything is better fried. This cheese is no exception. That sweet, gooey cheese was a godsend.
After I finished my cheese, the waiter smiled wide, asked how everything was, and whisked away my plate. Even the waiter seemed warm and summery! Not too long after, my margherita pizza was brought out. Some people get upset when you get something as simple as a margherita pizza. After all, it is basically just a normal cheese pizza with a few leaves of basil thrown on top. Yet, its simplicity allows you to better appreciate the two main actors that influence a pizza’s quality: the sauce and the crust.
The sauce tickled the tongue with its sweet, herby flavor. It tasted of tomatoes, onions, and garlic, slow-cooked all day as if they had waited for my arrival before being put to use. And the crust was exactly what any New Yorker wants: thick enough to support the rest of the pizza, but thin enough to give a satisfying crunch. The edges were blackened and crispy from the wood fired oven. Yes, it was a simple margherita pizza. Simple and delicious.
Sadly, I didn’t have room for dessert. I was really in the mood for tiramisu, but I ate an entire pizza… so that didn’t happen. Regardless, I highly recommend Rafele Ristorante. Winter is coming. We need a reminder of the happy, summer days.