I’ve been keeping something from you.
More than a year ago, I was hanging out in Italy. Mostly just eating, but sometimes cooking. Obviously, my life tends to revolve around food as it is, but my fixation was only exacerbated by being in a place where food serves as a language of its own.
The point is, I learned how to make this really amazing, really simple sauce, and then I proceeded to not share the recipe with you for more than a year. My host in Pisa taught me how to make this sauce. That’s right; you’re looking at a real Italian recipe from a real Italian person.
Once you make it, I imagine you’ll forgive me. Basically everything in here is easily substituted, too. Try it with eggplant. Try it with sour cream. Try it without any dairy at all. Then, let me know how it turned out!
Confetti Vegetable Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 zucchini, grated
1 squash, grated
1 red pepper, grated
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
your favorite pasta, cooked and drained
1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add zucchini, squash and red pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until most of the water has been cooked off. Drain the vegetables.
2) Place the pan back on the stove and lower the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Stir in the garlic. Cook until light brown.
3) Stir in the well-drained vegetables until the mixture is very warm. Turn the heat to low and combine the mascarpone cheese. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper.
4) Spoon sauce onto your favorite pasta and top with fresh basil.
It’s impossible not to be inspired here, really. I could wax poetic about Italy all day, but I think it’s best to write this post channeling the same simplicity that I have noticed in the food here. Fresh and, often, sublime, yes. But also simple.
Since we’re talking inspiration, this picture depicts my view during lunch today (and every day):
Ha! Totally kidding. My back is actually facing the Mediterranean Sea where I sit at our table, so actually my view looks more like this:
Yes, life is good. And so is this sandwich. And its name is derived from the place it was born, and nothing more. I hope I don’t offend any Italians out there with a culturally inaccurate sandwich.
And for those of you who have been to Italy before, I have to ask: Where are the best places to go in Florence and Rome? And by “go,” I mean “eat.” Obviously.
Italian Steak Sandwiches:
2 medium-sized cuts of flank steak
Salt & pepper
2 medium sweet onions, cut in 1/2-inch strips
2 medium red peppers, cut in 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large loaf of bread (I used ciabatta, but I’ll opt for a less dense bread next time)
1 large mozzarella ball, sliced
A few sprigs of basil
Pesto or your favorite sandwich spread
1) Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper while heating a large pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add steak. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Set steak aside on a cutting board.
2) Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add onions and peppers. Cook for 2 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3) Cut steak into strips. Slice bread into four sections, then cut each section in half again to make the sandwich. Add steak strips to the base of each sandwich, then layer with onion and pepper mixture, mozzarella, and basil. Spread pesto or other sandwich spread on the top half of the sandwich. Serve warm (I heated ours up on a pan with another pan on top, panini-style) or cold.
Why, yes, I’m still on an all-I-wanna-eat-is-vegetables (and legumes) kick.
I’m also on an all-I-wanna-do-is-have-some-fun kick (see: Crow, Sheryl). Like, suddenly, in my last two weeks of being between childhood and adulthood, being in a kind of maturity limbo where I’m accountable for my actions, but not entirely for my bank account, I’m ready to cram four years of college experiences into half a month.
It’s fun. Exhilarating, exciting, terrifying, promising, all wrapped up into one moment in my life.
And that’s where I’m at.
Black Bean Burgers:
2 cans (30 oz) black beans, drained
1 red pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Break up the black beans with a potato masher or your hands. (You could also use a food processor, a la green lentil burgers.) Cover bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2) Heat a pan over medium-low heat with several tablespoons of vegetable oil. Take a small fistful of black bean mixture and shape into patties. Place on pan.
3) Cook for three to five minutes on both sides. (Flip the patty when the edges begin to brown.) Sometimes I add a slice of cheese right after the flip. Or, after I put the patty on a bun, I spoon some sour cream on top.