New Year? Pasta and Home-made Coffee

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