The smallest Bialetti for just one cup of good Italian coffee

Poonam told me in her blog that New Year resolutions must be public since this can help us to track our progress and dedication on completing them. Well, I’ll try to follow her advice and since I am now living alone with absolutely no cooking skills, no house skills and no practical mind altogether, here are my simple (and pathetic) resolutions for 2008:
1) I want to learn how to cook well enough instead of often going to a pizzeria or small restaurant nearby. First of all, being Italian, I need to be able to make good pasta and a very good home-made coffee. It is a national necessity. It is true that I am a zero cook but my taste for food being refined enough I badly need to learn how to produce at least decent basic meals. Good thing both my Neapolitan friends (Rome’s Greek cousins I call them) & my neighbours from Northern Italy are helping me a bit.
2) I will write down all the money I spend each day on a little copy-book or my finances will go havoc.
3) I will work on my physical fitness (bicycle, swimming and walking). There is a wonderful fitness centre not far from my home but at the moment my money is little.
4) I will clean the house and wash all my clothes myself without asking for external help.

I will only record here my dawning cooking skills, since the other resolutions are self-explanatory in some way. In future posts, if I can, I will tell you more about my progress (granted there will be any) so you can judge yourself. This is then what I have learned so far.

Tomato sauce for basic pasta. In order to make good Italian pasta one needs to prepare a decent tomato sauce to add to pasta once it is boiled (spaghetti, rigatoni, fettuccine, fusilli, farfalle etc. Here you can find a list of the most common varieties of pasta). Now my simple recipe for an Italian tomato sauce. I preheat olive oil in a non-stick pan and add chopped celery, onions and carrots (I think it is called battuto). Once these basic ingredients have become pale golden – one should be careful not to brown them – the result is called soffritto, since it is stuff lightly fried in oil (friggere = to fry). One can buy frozen chopped celery, onions and carrots (I did a lot) but the taste of the resulting soffritto is not the same. While these ingredients are getting golden one can flavour soffritto by adding pancetta, a lightly-seasoned Italian bacon, or peperoncino (chilli) or red wine, herbs (like basil etc.) or vegetables like mushrooms. Once soffritto is ready (golden) put passata of tomatoes into the pan (passata I learned is pre-cooked concentrated tomatoes one can find everywhere, see figure below), cook everything for 20-30 minutes and our Italian tomato sauce is done! The advantage of passata is that a lot of work is already done (no need of peeling good San Marzano tomatoes, cut them in pieces etc. etc. till you get your own passata).

Bottles of Passata, an important ingredient for tomato sauce. Fair use

Home-made coffee. While in America the most common way of brewing coffee is dripping (a technological miracle since it allows to brew a totally tasteless coffee, I really am surprised how they made it lol), in Italy we usually use a moka-style machine. Bialetti is the classical machine almost everybody has and I highly recommend it. Well, people from Naples used to make home coffee with their own Neapolitan pots (caffettiera napoletana) which are different from the Moka pots. These pots can produce even better coffee but now they are difficult to find in shops, although one day I really want to find one and try. So here is some info gathered from my family, my experience and my Neapolitan friends. Moka Express technology first though (image and quote taken from Wiki Books):

Moka Express Coffee Pot Techology. GNU Free Documentation License

“Water is placed in the lower section (A) and the raw coffee grounds in the mid-section (B) with the spout reaching below the water level. After the top section, initially empty, is affixed, the pot is placed on a heat source. As the water reaches boiling point it turns to steam and eventually creates sufficient pressure to force all the water from the lower section up the tube at once, through the grounds — which are held in place by a metal filter above and below — and through a second tube until it hits the lid of the pot and is collected in the upper section (C), producing a strong, concentrated coffee. Gaskets and safety valves to ensure a tightly closed unit allow for pressure to safely build up in the lower section and provide a necessary security release if this pressure gets too high.”

Here are my little secrets. 1) You can buy coffee already ground. I prefer Lavazza oro and Illy packages. The latter is much more expensive though. 2) Amount of water in the (A) section: my mother preferred a tiny bit of water showing in the (B) section grid before adding coffee powder. My Neapolitan friends though prefer water only up to the safety valve inside section (A), which means much less water. I must say they are right since this way coffee is more concentrated thence has more gusto. 3) Coffee grounds must be pressed a bit so boiling water finds its way with more difficulty thus providing you with a stronger aroma. 4) Cup(s) must be put into boiling water before receiving the precious black liquid. This is absolutely mandatory for Neapolitans, who would never drink coffee on a cold cup. Romans are less picky. Again I think Naples is right since coffee is good when sipped really hot. One more thing. The one-cup Moka machine produces the best single-cup coffee you can ever make at home (see the picture at the head of the post page: in my home I put this little wonder on top of two Latin Corpus Iuris Civilis books lol). Larger Mokas are for 3, 5, 6 etc. etc. but the quality of coffee is not as good. 4) My students in the suburbs of Rome taught me this dirty trick called il caffè bomba, the bomb coffee. Add a few spoons of coffee to water in section (A) and the resulting coffee will be a bomb, no kidding. Be very careful though. Coffee is a drug and can be dangerous for the faint of heart.

Is it ok Poonam? Are my New Year personal resolutions good? 🙂

Italian version

20 thoughts on “New Year? Pasta and Home-made Coffee

  1. LOL Come on over and join me in making good, simple Italian food almost all the time. (I intersperse with some other cuisines.) Not Americanized, but usually in English, Puglia is a passion.

    I’ll bet with those good resolutions your complexion, as in your photo shown, will improve vastly.

    I love Illy, too, but end up grinding my own.


  2. Cool!

    Your resolutions are good. The seem doble, manofroma. You must stick to your commitments. 🙂

    Not only that, your post about resolutions also has several things to learn. That recipe for italian tomato sauce would appeal a lot to my friend who is a pasta fan.


  3. I also have my new year resolution too, it’s a good start to have this resolution. Hope i can reach all the target. 😀

    It’s interesting to read this post and i am wondering about your progress on cooking. 🙂 Besides, you let me know some skills to make sauce for pasta in this article too.

    In here, we have several ways to make pasta. Such as Fried pasta. 1) Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 mins, and then kept it in boiled water for 10 mins. Take out the pasta and rinse in cold water and then let the pasta dry in the air. 2)Heat the pan or wok, and then put the oil on wok, and add some chopped garlic, onions, ham, mushroom, fry it till all in golden color, then add the pasta and fry them together. 3) Add the sauce, tomatoes sauces or corn soup or cream soup in it, and then fry them together again. 4) Add some pepper, and some salt in it. Then Fried pasta is done lol.

    “Well, people from Naples used to make home coffee with their own Neapolitan pots (caffettiera napoletana). They can produce even better coffee but now these pots are so difficult to find in shops…”

    I am surprised to hear that that pot is difficult to find in shops. But why this pot is difficult to find in shops in Rome??? If it is difficult to find, how can you italian make a home-made coffee everyday?

    Coffee is good to drink occasionally for me.. Though it smells good, it could make me can’t fall asleep if i drink some concentrated coffee/ milk tea lol. I had tried to drink 3 cans of coffee to keep me awake overnight when i was writing my dissertation. I found that the style of italian coffee is totally different from those chain coffee shops like Starbucks lol…


  4. @judithgr
    Well, my complexion is 2 thousand years old, difficult to improve me being a mummy from an arcane past ah ah ah. Puglia? I also am passionate about Puglia and I was there often. I know English people are buying a lot of houses there and I met a few. It is cheap and beautiful there, and the food is great! So you now live in Umbria, a nice place as well. I’ll have a look at your web site. All the best and welcome.

    Good, and now I also expect some easy Indian recipe from you or your friend, ok? So easy pls that even a moronic cook like me can get something edible outa it lol.

    >i am wondering about your progress on cooking… we have several ways to make pasta, such as Fried pasta

    My progress is very little, but I found cooking is such fun I hope I’ll get better, time allowing. Is a “wok” a Chinese pan, round and deep? I think I saw a few. Your fried pasta seems delicious, only I have problems with things too fried. What kind of oil do you use? And can you pls advice something Chinese to me both easy to do and not fried?

    > I am surprised to hear that that pot is difficult to find in shops…If it is difficult to find, how can you Italians make a home-made coffee everyday?

    Ah ah ah, sweet AutumnSnow, no, no, I was referring only to Neapolitan pots, the only ones difficult to find and dissimilar from the Moka Bialetti shown in the picture, which is a “classic” you can find everywhere not only in Italy (I changed the post text so that there is no misunderstanding).
    Neapolitan coffee pots are little known in the world (sometimes even here). They are different as far as technology and are very complicated to manage in my view. I bought one many years ago in Rome. It took me A LOT to make coffee out of it, but wow, I tasted the best home made coffee of my life! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make coffee with it any more after that time, so I forgot about it. Would like to buy another one and give it a new try lol.


  5. “My progress is very little, but I found cooking is such fun I hope I’ll get better, time allowing.

    I totally agreed that you can find some fun on cooking. I believe you will get much better, since cooking need to do some more practises, then you will be a good cook even just cook for basic cuisines.

    “Is a “wok” a Chinese pan, round and deep?”

    Yes, you’re right. “Wok” is round and deep which is commonly use in China for fried stuffs. I think “pan” can also do this same effect, only the action of “Fried” should be done softly lol since pan is not deep enough.

    “What kind of oil do you use?”

    There are different kinds of cooking oil can be found in the supermarket. We chinese commonly use corn oil and peanut oil. Few years ago, there are olive oil, and sunflower seeds oil provided too since people started to aware about their health lol. The flavour of dish by using corn oil and peanut oil enhanced much compared with using the other oils. So I preferred to use corn oil or peanut oil, only peanut oil produces much smoke while cooking lol…

    “And can you pls advice something Chinese to me both easy to do and not fried?”

    mm…i think you can use the way of steaming, pan-frying or baking. I think it’s much easy to handle for you at the beginning. When you have some more practise, i think you can try to do sauteing (fried) and deep-frying.

    Let me find some simple chinese dishes which is easy for you to handle. I will tell you later on. ;-D


  6. Hi Manofroma,
    the sight of the “caffettiera” together with the ancient books in the photograph are just the clear anticipation that you will succeed on all your resolutions… and much more, my friend. Put being alive and awaken (like you are) together with culture and beauty and all things will look and sound better.
    And I’m not like Candide, believe me my friend. ciao 🙂


  7. @Milanese
    Grazie Milanese and thanks for popping up. Yes, culture plus beauty (which includes good food of course) plus being active together with good friends, as old wise Epucure said, can mean a good recipe for life. I’ll try my best. I miei saluti a Milano!


  8. @manofroma: My friend hardly knows to cook. He stays alone and has this craving for pasta. I hope he can share this recipe with his cook and get the dish made. 🙂


  9. @Poonam
    Well, you and your friend are in deep trouble if you count on me for good recipes. You have been a bad bad girl though towards old Man of Roma lol. I was expecting a good (and simple) Indian recipe from you …By the way, what is ‘Massala’? Is it a mixture of spices (every Indian family having its own and being a sort of a family secret)? One more thing. I am worried about Ashish. I will miss him.


  10. I stopped at the thought of mouth watering Paaaaaasta! Mmmmm!

    You got it right on, Spices. 🙂

    I am worried about Ashish. I will miss him.
    Don’t worry, I’ll try to stay in touch. Promise. 🙂


  11. @Ashish
    Ah, does that mean that the only way to capture you back is FOOD? You bad bad glutton boy. I’ll flood my blog with tons of *my own* recipes, then, enough to poison the entire planet ah ah ah. It’s good you are back, dear friend. Do not leave us ….


  12. yes, Masala means spices. I certainly do not have knowledge if every family has their own massalas. Because these days we buy branded spices, only preferences and combinations may be different. Unlike in old days, each one would prepare their spices at home.

    Ashish is there on and off these days. What Indian recipe you want, I can always ask my mother or grandmother.


  13. Thank you for visiting my site. I have been reading yours and finding it very interesting. Now on the subject of cooking..(here I roll up my sleeves)..I have posts on good Sunday sauce and how to make a good caffe with moka pots, so maybe I can help you with your resolution. My grandparents came from Bari, so I am heavily influenced by southern cooking.
    I will be back to read some more. I am especially interested in food, music, good company, and wine..all put together for simple joy 🙂


  14. @Maryann
    Bari, I adore Puglia. I often go there for work. Lovely cooking there also, by the way, and excellent people! I will hunt for the post on how to make a good caffè with moka pots and a lot more.

    >I am especially interested in food, music, good company, and wine … ..all put together for simple joy

    This seems so delighfully Italian! You Italian Americans are intriguing (and almost unknown to me). I will explore your web log further.
    From this post you get a general idea of my blog:


  15. @Man of Roma
    @Autmn Snow

    I hope by this time u two have mastered the art of making pasta and Cookin…
    I’ll be glad to offer my services as guinnie Pig. LOL(Only dictionary knows the spellin’)


  16. @Falcon
    Any contribution is of course welcome, dear Falcon! By the way, I also absolutely adore Indian cooking, wow. It took me longer to appreciate it since Chinese cooking, for example, has flavours somewhat similar to Western flavours, for climate reasons maybe. But, as they say, when beauty is harder to get, the pleasure obtained is greater.

    All my best regards


  17. @Man of Roma
    Hey I Didn’t say I will contribute any recipies all I said I am ready to gobble down anything u two prepare!!!!


  18. @Falcon
    Ah ah ah, ok, Falcon. Pity in any case. I adore Indian cooking. I asked Poonam also for a recipe but she didn’t reply on that. Have a good day (or night)


  19. Hello everyone!

    I’m a Greek woman and I’ve just spent my weekend in Milan. Oh, it was really great, although it was raining since Saturday afternoon until yesterday afternoon, while I was leaving for Athens.

    I very much like Italians and everything Italian in general, language as well(io parlo un poco Italiano!) and my trip yesterday was a dream of a lifetime. I feel so lucky I managed to visit Italy, even for such a little time.

    Anyway, I have one question about Italian coffee: I’ve bought 2 machinettas of different size , but the coffee I get has no cream, it is totally black. I asked the shop assistant at Bialletti shop in Milan if Italians drink this kind of coffee without crem and she said, yes. The think is, when I order espresso at cafes, I always get that nice, thick cream on top, which I never managed to make with my machinetta.
    Is it because you can only have this with an electric espresso maker?

    Please, let me know the answer, otherwise I will always try to get a creamy espresso with my machinetta…!


    1. Hi and welcome here Zoe! I love all that is Greek and I have been to Greece so many times!

      I can give you my opinion. You are right, the moka pot, Bialetti-like, that Italians use at home doesn’t actually produce the thick cream of a cappuccino or of an espresso you get only at a bar (Italian for coffee place). In Italian bars they use expensive machines that cost a fortune with a totally different technology. But Italians usually like the taste of home-made coffe. I prefer the single cup made by the smallest Bialetti. There are tricks to bypass the bar-cream problem, but the taste is not the same. You can try the Mukka Espress Bialetti, considered a good cappuccino maker for stove, although the cream it produces is not as tasty: but illusions sometimes count. There are also coffee makers for the office which can make some cream (not the real thing, but a bit better): something like the Café Minuetto professional. Usually the office not-so-bad ones are those that grind coffee each time before actually pouring the black liquid on a cup. But they cost more.

      Ciao, woman of Greece, this is all I can tell you.


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