This month it'll be ten years since I first went to Italy. My sister and I went to Rome with her boyfriend (now her husband) to meet his family. It was, as Anne of Green Gables would have said, an epoch in my life. Not only did I get to see the Eternal City, I also got introduced to, and fell in love with, coffee the Italian way. And as is usually the case with me and food, there's a story behind it.
We'll call this one, "Filipino Canadian West Coast Bumpkin Meets Sleek, Smart, Sophisticated Italian."
Our first morning in Rome, we woke to sunshine, fresh breezes blowing into the apartment, and the table set for breakfast. At my place I found a large mug, and directly in front of me, the cutest little coffee pot I ever did see.
On the table there was also a pitcher of steamed milk. So I thought, "Oh, they must have their morning coffee just like the South Americans do. Lots of hot milk."
So I poured milk into my mug, added all the coffee there was in the pot, and - after an eye-popping first sip - two or three spoonfuls of sugar.
A few minutes later, my sister's future father-in-law joined us at the table. The first thing he did was reach for the (empty) coffeepot.
He held the coffeepot expectantly over his cup, which I now ntoiced was way smaller than mine - smaller, even, than a demitasse. When nothing came out of the spout, he frowned a bit and tilted it a bit more. Then he looked over at me, and then from my guilt-stricken, embarrassed face, to my coffee cup. He didn't look annoyed, he looked amazed.
He said, "You like coffee."
By this time his younger son, Francesco, was in fits of laughter. All throughout the day he kept grinning at me, making owl-eyes and remarks about how I was going to sleep that night.
I slept excellently well, thank you very much.
After I got over my faux pas, I never enjoyed a cup of coffee more. Unknowingly I had made myself a cappuccino, minus the foam. The flavour was unlike any coffee I had ever had: rich and strong, but not bitter.
I had many cups of espresso - with or without milk - throughout those two weeks in Rome, and as you've probably guessed, I went home with my very own little Bialetti, a set of pretty little espresso cups, dainty as a child's tea-set, and a package or two of my host's coffee of choice, Lavazza, which happily I've been able to find in Canada.
I'm onto my second Bialetti now. (These little wonders are also available in Canada. In Vancouver, check out The Gourmet Warehouse or Bosa.) Small, quiet, unassuming, and amazingly efficient, it's my best friend in the morning. Sometimes I have quick shots of espresso, sometimes I add it to hot milk. The first sip always takes me back to breakfast in Italy, to the cat on the sunny balcony and the wind in the cypress trees. In a strange sort of way it wakes me up and slows me down at the same time...the secret of life, I think, that the Italians have learned and perfected, and the rest of us can only imitate.
Try this next time you come home tired and hungry: your favourite sausage and sliced sweet onions, grilled, fried or roasted in your toaster oven. Serve with a dollop of dijon mustard, a dinner roll, and - if you have it - an ice-cold beer.
Here's a deceptively delicious summer meal with a wow factor that's inversely proportional to the simplicity of the prep. Here's what makes it work:
Make the aioli in advance and keep it well-chilled in the fridge.
Get the asparagus spears ready by peeling or snapping off the woody ends.
Have some appies and drinks ready, and as your guests schmooze, heat up your frying pan. The main course will be ready to serve in 15 minutes.
For the aioli:
2 egg yolks
1 large garlic clove, crushed to a pulp with a good pinch of coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard (I've used yellow and dijon; they both work)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, garlic pulp, and mustard. Drizzle in a tiny bit of olive oil and whisk until the mixture emulsifies. Add the rest of the olive oil a drizzle at a time, whisking constantly, until thick. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Scrape the aioli into a pretty serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and stow in the fridge until ready to use.
For the salmon and asparagus:
6 salmon steaks, about an inch thick
24-30 spears of asparagus
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper
You will need a large frying pan with a lid. Place the olive oil in the pan over over medium-high heat. Season the salmon steaks with salt and pepper and sear them on both sides, about a minute or two on each side. Remove them to a plate. Put the butter into the pan to melt and mix with the oil. Place the asparagus spears into the pan with a good sprinkling of salt and shake everything around so the spears get coated with the butter and oil. Place the salmon steaks on top of the asparagus. Cover the pan tightly with the lid. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and turn the steaks over. You might also want to roll over the asparagus spears so that they cook evenly. Don't worry if they start turning brown in spots. Put the lid back on for 3 more minutes or until the asparagus is tender but not mushy and the steaks are cooked through.
Serve immediately with the garlic aioli.
Pan-roasted Salmon and Asparagus with Garlic Aioli
What do Rome, Kansas City, and Vancouver have in common? They all have beautiful fountains. But I must say I like how the fountains of Vancouver are an organic part of the urban landscape. They flow down walls and steps, ripple gently into pools, and shimmer in the ever-changing light. Some of them are so unobtrusive, you almost walk into them before you notice they're there. The water is the main feature here, and the architectural lines are clean, straight, and simple rather than elaborate and ornate.
I could spend all day at the Gourmet Warehouse. Last weekend, when I took my sister there, we very nearly did. Wandering happily up and down the aisles, we lost all track of time, touching, looking, tasting, and exclaiming over things like toast tattoos, brownie popsicle moulds, and racks upon racks of baking tins, kitchen gadgets, beautifully shaped white tableware, spices, and salt (see above).
What better way to spend a Saturday?
When it came time to check out, we had to do some serious editing of our shopping cart. But we still managed to haul away quite a lot of loot...in matching stylish Gourmet Warehouse totes, of course.
1 espresso cup with saucer and spoon
1 sugar bowl
1 oil and vinegar pitcher set (which I will use for coffee cream and maple syrup)
2 egg cups
2 bags MaxiMixed Roots Chips
1 baking tray with rack for my toaster oven
1 tin smoked sweet paprika
1 ice cream scoop
1 egg cup
1 espresso cup with saucer and spoon
1 set cookie cutters
1 bag Valrona dark chocolate chips
6 Weck mini-tulip jelly jars