Archive for Italian

My First Risotto

Posted in Food Reviews with tags , on May 14, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Coming from Melbourne, the land of great Italian food outside of Italy, it would be unthinkable to not have had risotto ever. Well, yours truly has achieved the unthinkable. I’ve never had risotto before (except for a spoonful or two I stole from my dinner companions once, and it was rather forgettable anyway) until today.

Fuelled by my recent curiosity over the dish that has received a lot of attention (and flak over how it should be cooked), I took the plunge and ordered my first ever risotto during lunch today. To add some more thrill to that, it was at some untried and untested cafe that I had lunch with two girlfriends today.

I couldn’t decide what to eat and time was ticking fast; with exactly thirty minutes to place my order, wait for my food, and scoff it all down, I jumped at the safest bet – the classic mushroom and onion risotto. I barely waited five minutes before my lunch was served, and spied the mound of grains on my plate with reasonable caution (and suspicion!) as they placed it in front of me.

The verdict? If not for the fact that risotto is basically a whole plate full of CARBS (and the fact that I wasn’t exactly starving), I would’ve wolfed it all down in 10 minutes flat. With my limited knowledge of risotto, I thought it was pretty good. It was done pretty much al dente, not at all starchy, and actually very easy on the palate. It had a good balance of parmesan and white wine in it, with the tartness of the wine cutting through the creaminess of the cheese beautifully.

It was a wonderful experience, quite unforgettable in fact, and will now go down in my books as a dish to behold with great respect (because I can foresee many more risotto experiments and I’d expect gluggy ones along the way). And on that note, I recently stumbled upon a book that had a tip on how to cook risotto (I can’t remember which one though). The trick, apparently, is to shake the pan and not stir it so that it doesn’t become starchy.

So there, I’m pleased to report on my first risotto experience…and many more to come!

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Tiramisu and All Things Italian

Posted in Desserts, Dinner Parties, Recipes with tags , , on May 12, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

You could consider me a huge fan of Italian food in all respects. It’s not just the pastas and pizzas that excite me, but I love how there is so much culture ingrained in their cooking. Every Italian I’ve met evidently takes great pride in how their food is made.

Take the Italian trattoria La Bussola just down the road from my house, for example. It is a humble looking cafe-restaurant that is mostly unadorned except for a couple of sign boards and very unattractive furniture. The menu is unpretentious, with the standard fare of marinaras, carbonaras and the like, no different from what you’d get from its Lygon Street counterparts. But having said that, their spaghetti marinara is perhaps one of the tastiest I’ve ever had, even outshining the snobby (but once good) Tiamo.

Despite the tiny morsels of seafood (a decent combination of squid, mussels, shrimp and fish I think) in my pasta, they were fresh and there were loads of them; what they lacked in size, they sure made up for it in quantity. The tomato sauce was light and refreshing yet thick enough to hold the fort – the result was a hearty, satisfying spaghetti marinara. At $12 a pop, this is definitely the best value spaghetti marinara dish I’ve ever had.

Anyway, I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was tiramisu. I love tiramisu because it’s Italian, and because it’s got coffee, chocolate, and a good dose of alcohol in it. Oh, and of course, it’s sweet. That’s the perfect winning combination for me. I don’t just love to eat tiramisu, I also love making it. It’s one of those great desserts you can wow your guests with, but can be created with your eyes closed, in 10 minutes flat.

I came home from work feeling sick today but because I was missing K’s birthday bash (for the umpteenth time this week), I decided to make it up to her by making her all-time favourite dessert – why, tiramisu, of course. Later on in the evening, she called me to say that the tiramisu was “sooooo good” and that she’d already finished half the tray in no time. It was a lovely compliment to receive and probably the highlight of my depressing day, but then I thought, hey it was REALLY easy to make!

Anyway, I figured I’d share my own recipe with you. Not quite a recipe because I never did follow one in the first place. It was pure trial-and-error and guesstimations; after a couple of attempts, I’m pretty sure you’ll get the hang of it. The only thing I don’t understand is why recipes make it out to be so complicated because it really isn’t. So there…

The Easy Peasy Tiramisu
Serves about 4-6 people, depending on how much they like tiramisu

Mascarpone Layer

  • 250g mascarpone cheese
  • 1.5-2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur (Baileys, Kahlua, or Tia Maria)…or more!

Whisk the mascarpone and sugar together, then gradually add in the Irish cream liqueur to loosen up the cheese mixture until you get a creamy consistency. It should be as thick or thin (whichever way you look at it) as cream.

Sponge Base

  • +/- 16 savoiardi (sponge finger biscuits)
  • 1 cup strong espresso + 1/3 cup Irish cream liqueur (combine)
  • Best quality cocoa powder for dusting (like Valrhona)

Spoon the espresso lightly over the top surface of the sponge fingers; you don’t have to moisten the bottom as the liquid will gradually sink to the bottom and soften it as well.

Putting it together
Layer half of the moistened savoiardis onto a rectangular dish (or any dish for that matter) until it is packed like sardines. Spread half the cream over the surface, then dust with cocoa powder.

Layer the rest of the savoiardis and spread the remaining cream over. At this stage, DO NOT DUST ON THE COCOA POWDER! Refrigerate it for a couple of hours or overnight for the tiramisu to set, and dust on the cocoa powder when you’re ready to serve.

Voila!