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Today is Marmo’s birthday!

The above photos were taken from a scrap book I assembled a looooong time ago entitled, “The Complete Hairstyle Index of Marlene Iaciofano.” In it, I displayed photographic examples of her numerous hairstyles (The Box jokes that she’s had about 742 of them) and numerated them for ease of identification for both herself and her stylists. Personally, my favorite is Baby Marmo, sporting what looks like a wig, but is actually all her real hair. Marmo has a nice head of hair, people. John would like to think he inherited this trait.

In addition to good hair, Marmo has a lot of other fantastic qualities that make her a good mom. Here are some of them:

1. Her refrigerator, while alarming and a potential health hazard, is always stocked full. You will never starve in the Iaciofano house. Unless The Box is there.

2. She makes no sense. In a good way! Marmo has a deep reservoir of energy. Often this comes out in her speech patterns. Like when she attempts to put three thoughts into one sentence.

3. She refers to either John or I as “Johnelana” or “Elanajohn”.

4. She always wants to try new restaurants.

5. She likes taking her children to foreign countries like Italy. It’s John’s turn this time – they depart on Friday.

6. She refers to my dog Toby as “Little Cesar” and “that cute little dawg” (please read with NJ accent). And treats him like her grandchild.

7. She will still make John breakfast.

8. She is an excellent cook.

Below, I am offering you one of Marmo’s tried and true pasta dishes: Farfalle with Sausage. This pasta dish makes almost everyone happy almost all of the time. It’s a Marmo special. The sauce is a tomato cream (the whole tomatoes provide a chunky consistency) with a kick from the red pepper. As for the sausage, if you like extra spice, you can use a spicy Italian sausage. Otherwise, a sweet sausage is a perfect contrast.

What You Need:
1 small onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
4-6 links of sausage, casing removed
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 can whole tomatoes
Grated Parmesan cheese
1 box farfalle pasta

What To Do:
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Cook sausage meat, without casings. As the sausage cooks, break it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until the sausage is browned.

If too much fat has accumulated in the pan, you can drain it off, but leave about 2 tablespoons (a little fat goes a looooong way).

Add chopped onions and garlic and stir.

Add spices and herbs and the can of tomatoes.

Bring to a boil and add the heavy cream. Reduce the heat and cook on a very low heat for 20 minutes.

in the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it is boiling, add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Add your farfalle pasta and cook until al dente (check package instructions).

Drain the pasta in a colander, and the cooked pasta into a large pasta serving bowl. Add in the sauce and toss to coat.

Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese, and a little extra chopped parsley.

Serves 4-5 people.

Wanna wish Marmo a happy one? Go “like” her company, Gourmet Getaways on Facebook!

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The Story of How the Box Became THE BOX:
One day, a few years back I received a text message from John. At this time, John was using a cell phone that required him to push the number buttons several times to register the proper letter equivalent while texting. You all remember these phones…some of you may still have one, yes? Hopefully not. ANYWAY, John texted me about our dad. THE BOX. But he was not yet called The Box.

He WAS called “Fat Boy,” a name I have called him since I was in the fourth grade. Cute, don’t you think? Anyway, John did not push the “XYZ” button on his phone the appropriate number of times, so instead of texting “Fat Boy” in reference to our dad, he texted, “Fat Box.”

It has become, in my opinion, the most advantageous typographical error in cell phone history. Fat Boy ever after became Fat Box, and then “The Box,” which is a great name for our dad. So, in honor of him, We present this pasta recipe: Pasta for The Box, But Not From a Box. Wearing Sox.


What You Need:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with juice or crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces pancetta or 6 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 pound ground beef chuck (not lean)
1/2 pound ground veal
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound small pasta

Garnish: Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

What To Do:
If using whole tomatoes, in blender or food processor, purée tomatoes with juice. Set aside.

In large, heavy pot over moderate heat, heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and sauté until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add beef, pork, and veal and sauté, breaking up meat with back of spoon, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add onion and carrot and sauté until vegetables are tender, 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir in red wine and simmer, scraping up browned bits stuck to bottom of pan, until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cream, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and brick-red in color, approximately 30 minutes.

In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until almost tender. Drain well and toss with sauce. Serve with grated cheese.

For Homemade Pasta:

As a general rule of thumb, use 1 cup of flour/egg per person.  Create a “well” in your pile of flour and crack the egg(s) into the well.

Break up the egg yolk with your fingers first, then slowly gather in your flour until it is gone.  Add sprinkles of flour or drops of water to combat a wet or dry mixture.

Knead dough until it has achieved a proper “bounce back” feel to it.  Once it is ready, feed the dough into your pasta machine between the rollers at its widest setting.  Crank that bad boy through and, gradually, narrow the setting on the rollers so until the dough gets very thin.  Once thin, feed the sheet of dough through the setting for shredding.

Place the noodles on a floured pan to negate any sticking.  Then, add to a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Viola.

This recipe was inspired by one found here on Epicurious.com.

Feel free to view our other videos, seen here, here, and here.

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My Aunt Emily sends me a birthday card every year. But it’s my responsibility to IMMEDIATELY call her upon receipt of this card. Or else. I’m done. Seriously.

On my last birthday, I received my card as usual. So I called.

“Thank you for the card, Aunt Emily,” I shouted (you may recall that she can’t hear very well), “How are you?” Demerits are also given for not immediately asking how she is doing.

“Oh I don’t want to talk about that. I want to hear about someone special.” Translation: She wants to know about my love life.

Really?

“There’s no one special right now, Aunt Emily,” I responded, still loudly, and through gritted teeth.

“Well you’re just getting fussy,” she decides.

Fussy? I have two things to say about this:

1. The last time she asked me this question, I happened to be dating someone. When I told her this, she took me aside and whispered in my ear, “Play the field.” Huh.

2. Yes, indeed, I am fussy. Here’s why:

I will demonstrate with the use of pie charts (this is a food blog, after all).

As demonstrated above, I have a perfect right to be fussy. There aren’t many guys that fit into that narrowest pie piece. And I feel the same way about food. Do you have a favorite food? Just one? Would you eat it, if you could, every day?

Why would I eat sub-par pasta? What’s the point? I’m not looking to fill a void (although my stomach is frequently empty). I want those calories to count! As the above chart suggests, I do have a few foods that I would eat every day.

Breakfast: Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Cranberries

I actually do eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning. Add that to the list of things you really didn’t need to know. Usually, my cabinet is stacked with this brand, but recently I decided to give baked oatmeal a try. What resulted was the equivalent of a giant, chewy oatmeal cookie that filled my apartment with the aroma of cinnamon and warm blueberries. Here’s the recipe, which was inspired by this one at Fresh and Foodie.

What you need:
2 large eggs
1/2 cups sugar (you can use brown sugar)
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons ground flax seed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3 cups rolled oats
As many blueberries and cranberries as you want to throw in there. Or none – your call.

Top with: Nuts, and warm milk

What To Do:
Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking dish (I actually used a round one).

Mix eggs and sugar in the bottom of the dish, whisking to remove lumps. Add melted butter and carefully whisk to combine. Add baking powder, vanilla, ground flax seed, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt directly to the dish and whisk well. Add the milk and stir to combine.

Stir in the toasted coconut and oats, folding into the mixture, making sure everything is combined well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the oatmeal for approximately 45 minutes, or until the edges are brown. (I actually woke up, popped it in the oven, set my alarm for 45 minutes and went back to sleep. When I woke up breakfast was served!)

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then cut yourself a piece, top it with milk and whatever else you want. Make sure you get some of the crispy edges in your slice.

Lunch: Sweet Potato Fries with Arugula Salad (AKA Working French Fries into Your Daily Diet)

I get a little overwhelmed when I try to express my love for french fries. Where to start? The salty, crispy outer shell or the inner mushy, slightly sweet center? I like all varieties: original, sweet potato, truffle flavored, those Old Bay seasoned ones you get at the Frying Pan…A perfect food. Except for all that business about the health detriments of fried food. What’s a fussy girl to do? Make my own roasted sweet potato fries, that’s what! Then stick ’em in a salad for some leafy-green balance. Here’s how:

What You Need:
(serves 1)
1 sweet potato
Handful of arugula (enough to cover the bottom of a pasta/salad bowl
Sun-dried tomatoes
Roasted brussels sprouts (recipe here)
Sprinkling of goat cheese

Dressing: Balsamic vinegar mixed with extra virgin olive oil and a touch of sea salt.

What To Do:
Heat up your oven to 400 degrees. Peel your sweet potato, then either cut into wedges or use a mandolin to make waffle fries! Place your cut, raw potatoes in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Space evenly on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven. After about 15 minutes (for wedges – less time for thinner cuts), flip them over so the other side can get nice and brown). Use a spatula, please. I don’t want any martyrs or burn victims. Roast for another 10 minutes or so, keeping a sharp eye the whole time. Take them out, let them cool slightly.

Prepare your salad by starting with a layer of sun dried tomatoes on the bottom of the plate. Then pile on some arugula, a layer of your sweet potato “fries,” and brussels sprouts. You should now have a nice tower of vegetables. Top with crumbled goat cheese and if there is some white wine wandering around your place, pour yourself a glass of that too. OK, not for lunch. Well, maybe.

Dinner: Pasta Cacio e Pepe

When I was in Rome this past October with Marmo, I had my favorite meal at Roma Sparita: their Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe which was served in a bowl of fried cheese. Fried cheese bowl! What’s not to love? You can see the original here.

I decided I needed to make this for myself. It’s such a simple dish and a very traditional Roman one too. The main ingredients are just Peccorino Romano cheese, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. However, it feels luxurious. A little swirl of reserved pasta water added to the cooked spaghetti gives the dish a creamy texture. Swirling this pasta around my fork, I pretend I’m sitting at Roma Sparita’s blue-checked outdoor tables with the sunshine gleaming through my decanter of wine.

I purchased the cheese at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker where the helpful cheesemongers picked out a nice sharp variety with a dark rind. The cheesemonger BEGGED me to eat the rind (please, PLEASE eat the rind, he said). So I did. When I grated it on my pasta, I made sure to grate the rind as well. It added pretty flecks of brown and gray to the the dish, as well as a bit of texture.

Here is the recipe I used, which is based on this one from Smitten Kitchen:

What You Need:
Serves 1-2 (depending on how much you eat)
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 pound dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (don’t forget the rind!)
1 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt (optional)
Reserved pasta water (about a cup)

What To Do:
Cook spaghetti in well-salted boiling water in a large, wide-bottomed pot. Drain spaghetti, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Dry out your pot, then heat the olive oil over high heat. Add drained spaghetti and 3/4 cup of reserved pasta water and watch out as the pot is very hot and will make the water splatter around a bit.

Add butter, cheese, ground pepper and cayenne and toss together with tongs. Taste, adding more pasta water, cheese, pepper or salt to taste. Be careful adding salt as Peccorino is a salty cheese.

Serve immediately, sprinkling with reserved cheese and an extra grind or two of black pepper.

I’m still working on the fried cheese bowl…

Got a food you would eat every day? Tell us about it in the comments section. The fussier, the better.

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As many of you may know by now our mom (aka Marmo) organizes culinary trips and tours in Italy through her company Gourmet Getways. The fascinating people she’s met and resources she has accumulated doing this is quite outstanding. I was lucky enough to accompany her on her last recon-mission to Rome and had the opportunity to meet up with Katie Parla, a food and art historian and sommelier who has been living in Italy since 2003. Katie is a freelance writer and provides customized, private tours for small groups.

I admit to finding her lifestyle (or what I imagine it to be) fascinating. Italy has an intense culture: the flavor (both where food is concerned and lifestyle), the art, the history…the rambling ancient and medieval streets that are treacherous to walk on after troppo vino….it can all be very overwhelming. I wanted to get the insider track from Katie on what her life is like as an ex-pat and get some travel tips while I was at it.

*Above Photo: flat bread pizza at Roscioli.

1. What’s a typical day like for you in Rome? Do you even have a typical day?
I don’t really have a typical day, but I every morning I grab a slice of pizza bianca (a Roman flat bread), either at Roscioli or Forno Campo dei Fiori. Then I might do some writing or lead a market tour, followed by lunch (often pizza by the slice), then do some writing, meet a friend for drinks then go out to dinner.

2. What’s it like being an American living in Rome, and what advice would you give to travelers?
Obviously everyone has a different experience but I really enjoy it. I get to live two realities, that of the Rome dweller and that of the ex-pat. I wouldn’t want to have to be 100% dedicated to the former or the latter, but if I had to quantify it, I’d say I’m 75-25. I would suggest that travelers to Rome give themselves the chance to be a Rome dweller, at least partially, by staying for more than a few days, renting an apartment in a residential area, using public transport, and going food shopping in markets and small shops.

3. Tell us a little bit about the tours you lead and why you take this particular angle.
Well, I have degrees in Art History, archaeological spelunking, and Italian Gastronomic Culture, so my tours are in-depth explorations of these subjects. My tours tend to be interdisciplinary, as it is impossible to isolate single themes in a place like Rome where so many layers intermingle. On a food tour, the discussion might start on artichokes, then turn to botanical archaeology, then frescoes depicting vegetation. It can get nerdy.

* Above photo: Pasta Cacio e Pepe from Roma Sparita.

4. What is your favorite Roman dish and place to get it?
Tough question! Can I have more than one favorite dish? I’d probably say Roscioli makes my favorite carbonara, Roma Sparita my favorite Cacio e Pepe, Checchino dal 1887 my favorite Trippa alla Romana, and Pipeno my favorite Fiori di Zucca.

*Above Photo: a veggie vendor at the Testaccio Market.

5. The local food movement has been gaining ground in the US. Is this an issue in Italy/Rome or not as much (seeing as Italy is not over-run with Walmarts and Mega-Markets)?
While the large chain stores aren’t as prevalent in Italy as they are in the US, there has been a massive rise in the number of supermarkets over the past couple of decades. And in Rome, more market stalls are vacant than ever. A group called Coldiretti is seeking to combat that by promoting the consumption of local produce and other products. They run a weekend farmer’s market near the Circus Maximus and another (called Roma Farmer’s Market) in the old slaughterhouse in Testaccio. Over the past couple of years, some restaurants geared towards locavore eating have been opened. In June, the NYT published an article I wrote on the subject.

6. Tell us a little about being a sommelier and how you incorporate that knowledge into your tours or food adventures in general.
Well, I do have a sommelier certificate but, rather than using it for restaurant work, I lead wine tastings that focus on the cultural history of wine in Italy. I use a selection of wines to teach about grape cultivation, regional difference, and food culture, usually doing tastings at a wine bar or two in the center of town. I do a lot of traveling for food research and try to visit vineyards and speak with wine producers as much as I can. As you can imagine, eating and drinking are inextricably linked in Italy so you cant really study the food of an area without considering its accompanying wine.

* Above Photo: Burrata mozzarella at the St. George Hotel in Rome.

7. What is a little known Roman (or Italian) food that you think is just off-the-hook (so to speak)? And how can tourists get their hands on it, or recreate it?
Well, I don’t know how obscure this is anymore, but burrata is one of my favorite foods on the planet. If you can’t go to Puglia in southern Italy to eat it, Roscioli in Rome carries it. Beware. It is addictive. I have found pretty good burrata at Chelsea Market in NYC.

8. What’s a fantastic off-the-beaten-path Roman museum or site or nook ‘n’ cranny that is often overlooked?
There are so many! I am always shocked how few people visit Palazzo Massimo alle Terme with its spectacular Roman sarcophaghi and fresoces. Santa Prassede is another favorite place that is often overlooked and has amazing medieval mosaics. The Parco degli Acquedotti just off the Via Tuscolana is certainly off the beaten track and is a very cool public park with aqueduct ruins that lumber through the countryside. Palazzo Valentini under the Provincia building next to Piazza Venezia is super cool. Two villas decked out in marble mosaics and wall veneers were uncovered in 2007 and recently they have been open to the public. I went there last week and was the only visitor.

You can learn more about Katie, her writing and tours here.

And here is another article Katie wrote for the New York Time Travel section: In Rome, Really Local Food.

Thank you, Katie!

Oh and spelunking? That’s just cool. Speeee-lunk.

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A new year means new beginnings and fresh starts for many.  We are not immune to this trend.  So, after a few months of this blogging thing, we figured we needed to step it up and try our hand at cooking classes.  No, not us doing the actual cooking – although Elana has threatened me to make this a reality quite soon.  Instead, we are kidnapping someone a tad more qualified at the moment: Daniela del Balzo.

Daniela runs her own cooking school in Rome.  I first met Daniela on one of my mother’s culinary excursions throughout Italy, where Daniela took our entire group to the Testaccio Markets to shop for ingredients, and then up into the neighborhoods of Rome into her beautiful home.   Patiently, she spent time with each and every one of us as we prepared the afternoon’s meal.  I had done cooking classes previous to this, but Daniela’s was different.  She creates the perfect balance between hands on instruction and hands off demonstration, which is somewhat important considering everyone eats what they make: personally, my favorite part of the class.  And the meals, while expertly prepared and presented, are simple to make.  I had no problem replicating these dishes upon arriving back home.

If anyone is curious as to how they can participate in a cooking class with Daniela short of flying to Italy, Elana and I have arranged for Daniela to come to Elana’s apartment in Hoboken on the 29th and the 30th of January.  As of now, there are only 3 slots open for the day of the 30th, as the 29th has already been fully booked.  Please contact either Elana or myself if you are interested (john[dot]iaciofano[at]gmail[dot]com or elana[dot]iaciofano[at]gmail[dot]com).  The cost is $150 per person which includes a full meal, dessert and wine for a cooking class of no more than 6 people.  The tentative menu for the 30th is listed below:

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A few weeks ago, John, Marmo and I took a class at the De Gustibus Cooking School which is located on the 8th floor of Macy’s in Herald Square. Because I live in a hole, I had no idea there was a cooking school inside Macy’s! There is, in fact, and a very good one. It’s owned and operated by Salvatore Rizzo who has an impressive history of accomplishments in the culinary world.

As you can see from the graphic above, the class we took was called “Hands On: Pasta Presto” with Gina Stipo. The purpose of the class was to give us an introductory lesson in making fresh pasta along with three different sauces.

First a few words on Gina, our chef. Gina runs a cooking school in Siena (the Tuscany region) Italy, Ecco La Cucina. When teaching, her focus is hands-on so that you can experience the different stages of food preparation and understand how to execute various techniques. True to Italian ways, her meals center around fresh, seasonal produce and quality local ingredients.

Her teaching manner is very approachable and downright fun. The atmosphere was very energetic – we all had a fantastic time. And not just because of the fantastic food and wine (oh yes! there was wine!). But those things certainly helped….

To get us all warmed up, we snacked on some crostini and sipped Prosecco. All four crostini (mushroom, tarragon cream, kale, and Cannellini bean puree) were wonderfully light and flavorful. And kind of rustic…I could almost feel myself transported to a farmhouse in Siena…overlooking some fields of sunflowers….BUT I digress.

After the crostini, we all broke up into small groups to make our own pasta dough. We made enough for three dishes. First up was the Ravioli with Butternut Squash:

Since the pasta will be formed into ravioli, you only need to roll it out into thin sheets, stuff it with your filling (not too much – careful!) and then seal it (a little water does the trick). These little pasta surprises were stuffed with butternut squash puree. The whole thing was topped with a butter and saage sauce that was simple and beautiful. The cheese you see sprinkled on top is Parmesan.

We then moved on to the Spaghetti with Tomato and Ricotta Sauce:

This very simple sauce was a stand-out for me. It may have been the Ricotta cheese mixed in to the tomato sauce (readers of this blog will recall my love for Ricotta cheese). I’m not sure I will ever make a tomato sauce without Ricotta now. It managed to maintain its light and airy quality (cheese can sometimes weigh things down) while still adding a creamy taste and texture that perfectly complemented the tomato puree. Throw some freshly chopped basil on that and you have perfection.

Our last pasta was a Tagliatelle with Duck Ragu and Vin Santo. I really love duck. However, to those of you who are not duck meat lovers, this sauce is not overly gamey-tasting. It’s simmered with other ingredients for quite some time, so the effect is almost like a lighter boeuf bourguignon. The slightly wider and flatter tagliatelle noodle was the perfect pasta vehicle to scoop up this chunkier sauce. My favorite dish of the night.

Salvatore paired each dish with a wine. Here is what we drank:

Caposaldo Prosecco (with the crostini and to get us all warmed up)

Caposaldo Pinot Grigio (with the squash ravioli)

Caposaldo Chianti (with the tomato and ricotta spaghetti and duck ragu tagliatelle)

I don’t usually love Pinot Grigio, but I really liked this one. It had a slightly nutty (like me!) flavor. However, unlike me, I think this flavor was more like almonds.

All of these wines, if you’re interested, are available at Yorkshire Wine and Spirits.

And, finally, if you’d like to buy Gina’s book and make all these wonderful dishes yourself, here is where you can do that.

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