Waste Not 1

food

This morning I stumbled upon an article from one of my favorite bloggers and influencers, Trash is for Tossers. Lauren Singer is an activist working towards a more sustainable, waste-free future. She published this article about cooking with kitchen scraps, which not only reduces food waste, but also can help save money. Not to mention, cooking for one is more difficult than cooking for many, and if you’re anything like me you make all your meals at home. You’re often left with leftovers that sometimes you don’t want to eat, or fruit that you can’t seem to enjoy quickly enough.

In my first effort to use what I have and waste not, I decided to try out the second tip on Lauren’s list, “use greens like herbs.” When I went home, my mom graciously paid for my groceries (thanks, mom). This was on September 15, it is now September 25 and I’m still going strong on the basics I had and her contributions. She bought me this big bulb of fennel with beautiful mint green stalks. The bulb sat in my fridge untouched until now. I thought about how much the bulb cost by weight and I thought about how it would both waste money and food if I threw out the stalks and delicate dill-like leaves.

I decided to make fennel pesto. In a blender (which was not the most effective tool) I combined the leafy bits, four cloves of garlic, a hunk of pecorino and olive oil. I let it go for a bit, scraping down as necessary until it was some-what saucy. While I wouldn’t put it on pasta, I would definitely use it as a condiment or marinade, which brings me to my next point.

While at the grocery store I also bought some meat because it was on sale and it can last a long time if packaged and kept in the freezer. However, I always convince myself that I’ll freeze something and then I never unearth it from the cold for months because I just forget. Instead of buying more food and contributing more waste, I’m checking my freezer regularly to see what I have before making more unnecessary purchases. I have some pork chops that would go nicely with a fennel marinade. I recall during my Italian cooking class my professor mentioned the sweet harmony between pork and fennel. Plus, I can roast the stalks and an onion and make a very fragrant one pan meal.

While I bemoan leftovers, it makes lunch quite easy. The microwave at work makes leftovers basically only edible at work since I myself don’t have a microwave at home. Additionally, when I forget lunch it comes with a price. Lunch places nearby tend to be on the pricy side, and for good reason. They’re all delicious, but it just doesn’t make sense when I can bring food from home.

While some items definitely have to become waste (egg shells) some don’t have to be (“discarded greens”). Inedible vegetable sections can be used to flavor stock. Overripe fruit can be boiled and turned into compote. There are a million creative ways to transform “garbage.”

Additionally, I could be better about what I buy when I go shopping. From this point on I’m writing down items that I finished completely (1 loaf of bread stored in the freezer until needed, 1 bunch of radishes, 3 apples, you get the idea). This will reference the portion that I should buy instead of what I used to buy or might be tempted to buy. This opened my eyes to the wasteful ways of the grocery store: massive bags of kale and lettuce line the shelves and while the plastic bag is waste enough, one person could never eat that amount before the leaves turn.

Stay tuned for more “waste not” stories. I’ll be using articles like this to guide me so send me suggestions. I hope to document how much waste I reduce and how much money I spend on each grocery trip. Plus, maybe a recipe or two will come out.

Get Lost in the Sauce

food

There’s a maintenance man at work who always enthusiastically tells me about his tomato sauce. It started because my name, Marcella, is literally so Italian it becomes synonymous with pizza and pasta to most people. Besides that, I love that this sweet guy tells me when he makes sauce and asks for help when he needs to improve it. I’ve opened him up to simmering to thicken and adding a bay leaf to reduce acidity (you’re welcome, by the way) and he can’t believe his results. It’s very sweet.

That being said, I thought I would try to actually follow a sauce recipe for the first time in my life. As an Italian woman you’re born with an innate knowledge of how to make sauce exactly how you like it. So why a recipe? Bon Appetit’s Basically is doing 10 recipes in 10 weeks, the first one being sauce. I was going to make something else for dinner but plans change and I had all the ingredients sorta. I used passata instead of peeled tomatoes and pecorino romano instead of parm (because money) but everything else remained true. The garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil were pretty routine, but it was the technique at the end that transformed this from good to great. Cooking the pasta below al dente, saving some pasta water and finish cooking the spaghetti in the simmering sauce with butter really made this a home run AND that’s something you can do with any pasta.

The other thing that really made this pop was the amount of salt I added to the pasta water. Add so much salt that you feel bad about it because as Samin Nosrat says in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat most of that salt will go down the drain with the extra water, but a lot of salt is needed for the noodles to absorb flavor. Salt isn’t a spice, it’s an essential mineral that when used will enhance the flavor and texture of your dishes. Don’t oversalt, but start to build your flavors and enhance what’s there by using salt.

Really what I learned is that technique can be everything, and technique can be simple for the home cook. Sure, maybe 5 star french pastries won’t be coming out of your kitchen any time soon, but damn good pasta will be minutes away every night.

Don’t Choke

food

My life is coming to a stand still and I’m struggling to cope with that. It’s been building up for the past two weeks or so, but I just read a Washington Post article about speaking to recent graduates and it kills me knowing that my generation is prone to the anxieties that come with the unknown. I feel like I’m wasting my time without a purpose, but I’m here trying to produce as much content as possible to fill the void.

Stuffing the void, if you will, like I stuffed these artichokes. They were rough around the edges, like life can be, but after all the work it took to clean them, trim them, soak them, stuff them, and simmer them, the artichokes became beautifully fragrant and delicious. I’ve never had a full artichoke, I’ve only had the delicious marinated hearts. The whole  artichoke takes time and effort to deconstruct and consume. Each green petal was scraped against my bottom teeth, getting all the earthiness out of the petals. The reward? The soft, sweet heart that, after hours of simmering, could be spread across crusty bread.

Waiting was worth it. Waiting is usually worth it, but I like to have objectives or tasks or projects while I wait. I need to always improve myself in the down time, otherwise I feel like I will get stale and no one will want me (not even for croutons). As I scroll through Indeed and watch Sex and the City (ya know, for inspiration and research purposes) I wonder: will my waiting be worth it?

Beans, my dude

food

Beans are so underrated. They transform over time and take days to make perfect, but the transformation is worth the wait.

All over Italy at those beloved outdoor markets vendors sell dried beans. I don’t know how, but they’re far superior to anything we can get in America. These dried beans are large to begin with, but after an overnight soak and another day of simmering on the stove, they become so large that they require cutting with a fork and knife just to eat. The beans soak in water first, then garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and olive oil are added before they simmer on low all day.

I think my favorite part of this (aside from the creamy beans you get after over 24 hours of preparation) is the vintage crock that these beans soak and cook in. The reddish-brown clay pot was my great grandma’s and it’s a piece of cookware that inexplicably produces the best foods. There’s something about old cookware: I’m not sure if it’s a placebo effect or if the age makes a difference, but this is not the only piece of old cookware that produces the best of the best. My dad’s mom (my nonna) makes focaccia in her old pan. It inexplicably comes out better than any bread on this earth. We think it’s the pan, but it could just be Italian nonna magic.

Whatever it is, my dudes, I guess what I’m trying to say is that nonnas know best about everything from love to beans. Fill your soul with love, that’s what food (and nonnas) are for.

Spritz Season

drink

I miss Italy. I lived there for four months during a semester abroad and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I never felt more myself. I embraced the culture and the culture embraced me. Something new and exciting that I enjoyed frequently was the spritz, specifically the Aperol spritz. Aperol is a bitter liqueur made from non-specific herbs. The liquid is bright red, like some magic love potion you’d see near a witch’s cauldron. Its a little bit bitter, a little bit sweet, and a whole lot delicious. Aperol is most commonly served in a spritz: a drink consisting of prosecco, Aperol, club soda, and an orange wedge. The drink is perfect for almost every occasion. Eating a panini on a hot day? Spritz. Getting ready for dinner? Spritz. This is a cocktail that quenches thirst and satisfies your senses. Even the appearance of the drink is enchanting due to the signature red hue of the liqueur. The bitterness of the Aperol contrasts with the sweet effervescence of the prosecco. I simply adore everything about it.

To me the drink reminds me of warmth and happiness. There are so many versions of spritzes consisting of those three main components: bitter liqueur, wine, and seltzer or club soda. I bought an entire book devoted to the art of the spritz. I’ve had versions with Campari instead of Aperol, making the drink more bitter, and different herbal liquers, like the Hugo spritz. Today I made mine using rosé, Aperol, and a splash of seltzer. The sweetness from the rosé against the bitterness of the Aperol created a refreshing drink that didn’t taste alcoholic in the slightest, meaning it was a dangerous concoction and I should only have one.

The Aperol spritz reminds me of my second home: Italy. It reminds me of the great times and adventures I had. It reminds me of the little things, like tasting new foods, that made me excited to wake up every morning.

Try your hand at a spritz, traditional or of your own creation, and celebrate the little adventures you can only hope to have each day.

For the spritz I made for this post, check out this link.

The Smelly Lunch

food

TGIF, ya know? It’s been a long week of “so what are your plans now?” and it’s time to take a breather.

Remember when you were in elementary school and your lunch said just about everything about you? Gazing at the children unbagging Lunchables and Capri Suns I open up my bag to take out my Tupperware of tuna fish; stinky, smelly, delicious tuna fish. The smell today still makes me remember a time when I ate my lunch ashamed at the fact that my food was not the glamorous pre-sliced, mini ham and cheese sandwiches that kids assembled from their Lunchables.

Today I needed to feel like a kid so I can get those creative juices flowing (and figure out what on earth I want to write about). So I opened a can of oil packed tuna. Man oh man is that familiar. I’ve evolved since elementary school, and apparently so has everyone else because I’m sure most people would kill for the gourmet lunch that, in retrospect, was far better than an Uncrustable. I dumped the tuna, after draining some oil, onto a bed of greens with fresh tomatoes and a light vinaigrette made of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. I finished with salt and pepper (duh) and with one bite I felt a lot better. Taste is an incredibly strong sense, and with one bite I felt the weight of the world off of me. It’s sort of stupid to imagine that stinky tuna could do that, but for the 15 minutes that I ate my lunch I didn’t refresh my email inbox to see if I earned an interview. I didn’t refresh Indeed to see if my dream job opened up. I just ate my lunch and enjoyed the sunshine.

Scrambled Eggs

food

I woke up this morning feeling blah: I graduated on Saturday and I have no plans for the future. I’m applying to jobs non stop, but have not been lucky enough to even score an interview. So with my spare time I’m pairing food and emotion, and today’s feeling of emptiness needed something humble.

Scrambled eggs can be a mighty meal made from humble ingredients. They’re fluffy and creamy when you make them just the right way. Alex Delaney of Bon Appetit magazine posts his dreamy scrambles all over Instagram and it inspired me to upgrade my morning moves. According to his most recent scramble, he sautes some scallions in olive oil and drops the scrambled eggs into the hot pan. Typically scrambled eggs are a low and slow venture with butter or non-stick cooking spray, but the emulsion of the eggs and the olive oil make them dreamy and fluffy. Top them with hot sauce, and it’s like a hug for your insides.

The good olive oil is key. I recently bought California olive oil and it has changed my life. The flavor of the oil is rich, and the quality helps prevent greasiness. A good hot sauce makes a world of difference too. I highly suggest one that’s more peppery than spicy.

With no job on the horizon, I needed to feel capable this morning. Since scrambled eggs were one of the first foods I cooked on my own, I felt like I truly conquered something. I made something substantial with what I had with me. Today I needed that.