Gorgonzola and Greens Pasta + The (Sort of) Last Supper

IMG_4937We thought that it would be our last shared meal for a long time. In fact, that “long time” turned out to be six-and-a-half sleepy hours, before he joined me in eating corn flakes bathed in cold milk, mine slightly soggy and peppered with peanuts, his still crisp enough to create crunching noises in rhythm with the steady striking of rain. Bowls rinsed, bags gathered, bodies embraced and released all too soon, I set out beneath a canopy of steel-grey clouds that flapped like slashed curtains.

See you laters can be just as hard as goodbyes, especially when the point at which “later” will become “now” remains undefined. After finishing my final college exam on the final day of Finals Period, I went through Senior Week and Commencement Week much like many of my peers, seeing and saying see you later to the people whose presence had enriched and defined the last four years of my life, whose absence would at first feel alien. In a flurry of duct-taped boxes, UPS receipts, and flights, I was off romping through Europe with A-, N-, and R-, spending more time applying knowledge gained in my senior spring architecture course and expanding my stomach for gelato after every meal than I was dwelling on having to part ways with my travel companions eventually, for a long time, or at least for some time.

Despite what this post may suggest, super-sentimentality is far from my natural frame of mind. I could, and will now attempt to, keep this post crossing the line to nostalgia by noting all of the recent developments that have kept me engaged, excited, looking forward to the future while reveling in the present: moving into my first apartment (small but cozy, with fluffy carpet, at least twice as much counter space than my cramped dorm kitchens ever had, and a price that’s right for D.C.), assembling my small set of furniture (received piece by piece in the mail), getting reacquainted with the Metro (that is, paying steep fares, Kindle-ing it up, and being sandwiched between sweaty strangers), getting to know the locals (almost jarringly genuinely friendly, opening doors, holding elevators, and beaming smiles without fail), and starting my first full-time salaried job (I have already learned a lot from colleagues generous with their knowledge and their time). I have loved the past few weeks and cannot wait to see what the next, and yet more after, will bring.

But when the inevitable desire to reminisce about college, Europe, and the time spent in those places with people whom I love dearly arrives, I’ll gather some Gorgonzola, greens, and grains, and recreate my last supper with A-, itself inspired by one of our last meals in Venice. We made a few modifications, in part to use up pantry ingredients, in part on a whim. We threw in several handfuls of baby spinach, substituted pepitas for pistachios, and added a good glug of heavy cream nearing expiration. What we did make sure to include was Gorgonzola, rich and robust, our tried-and-true cheese that we had bought in blue-marbled blocks and smeared over crusty €1 baguettes wherever we picnicked in Europe and, most memorably, that we had devoured in that tagliatelle dish. One of my mottos for the trip (and in my life, really) was “the dairier, the merrier,” as a healthy appetite for adventure and cheese – nutty Comté, buttery Brie, and milky mozzarella still warm in its pillowy and pliant bundle – sustained us through scaling seemingly endless stairways, navigating labyrinths of alleyways, and crossing borders via overnight bus. Anointed with velvety and pleasantly pungent sauce, streaked with spinach, and freckled with pepitas and black pepper, this dish is the epitome of comfort food, reminding me of good times that were had and manifold good times to come, much sooner than later.

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Berry Basil Panna Cotta + Venetian Reflection

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The City of Water lived up to its name. As if to counterbalance the surfeit of sunshine that my travel companions and I had enjoyed in other European cities, Venice gave us days during which it rarely stopped raining. Water maintained a permanent presence, churning in the canals, running in rivulets between pavement stones, and flooding the Piazza San Marco, summoning street vendors peddling ponchos and umbrellas to drenched tourists. When tiptoeing around ever-expanding puddles proved futile, my comrades and I lugged our waterlogged selves, sodden shoes and all, through the city.

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Brief interludes of sunshine bookended storms and brightened our moods, permitting us to wander down winding roads and to take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, during which our gondolier peppered us with Venetian trivia while we soaked in the sights, before seeking shelter from torrential downpour once more.IMG_4970

Restaurants were our favourite refuge. We filled up on flavourful Venetian fare, sometimes to to the point of feeling like overstuffed ravioli: heaping platefuls of pasta in myriad shapes, sizes, and sauces; pillowy pieces of still-warm mozzarella sandwiched between tomato slices and basil leaves; and piping-hot pizzas topped with molten ricotta, all washed down with glasses of wine as cheap as water.

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In the midst of gorging on great food and wringing water out of hair, I encountered one of the best desserts of the entire trip, which was high praise considering that I had already eaten my weight in gelato by the time we had reached Venice. A shot glass of panna cotta, studded with just with enough pieces of strawberry to stain my lips pink and to make me crave more, serves as the inspiration for this recipe.

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My version of panna cotta – or “pan”-na cotta, as I like to pun – embraces more unabashedly the flavour of fragola, a fruit as curvaceous and delicious as the softly rounded Italian word sounds. Sweet strawberries, hand-picked by me at a Michigan farm back here in America and macerated with fresh basil and mint, complement the tartness of the lemon juice and the yogurt incorporated into the panna cotta. Easy to make and even easier to enjoy, this panna cotta is the perfect summer dessert.

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Flashback: Roman Holiday (with a Genovese Twist) (08/10/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I have been regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is the final post in this particular series, an excerpt of a blog post about gallivanting through Genoa and roaming in Rome.

Right away, it struck me. 

The colours. After weeks of passing buildings of marble and slate and brick commuting to and from work in London, there was something enchanting about these Italian buildings tinted delicate pastels, transformed into jewel tones by the sunset. Arrayed in the colours of gelato – pale peach, pistachio green, roasted chestnut, burnt orange, persimmon red, saffron yellow – they formed scenes that could have come straight from a Giotto fresco.

Then, there was the colour of the sea. The languid Ligurian Sea, lazy and azure, is framed by rows of boats rocking gently to and fro, cradled by the sea, against a backdrop of the verdant Apennine Mountains. Famous for its historic role as a key port city, the bygone home of dukes and birthplace of such notable explorers as Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, Genoa has since lost much of its commercial significance, with the advent of airplanes and the wave of globalization driving Italian-based waterborne travel closer to desuetude.

And it shows. However ornate, the Genovese architecture is not entirely well-preserved. Just a few streets away from the row of august palazzi where dukes once lived is the intersection of dingy alleyways that comprise the red light district. But for the most part, the city appears unaltered since its Renaissance days. I stayed somewhere in between the two aforementioned areas, in a charming building with butter yellow walls and a staff with sunny dispositions. There, I met an American taking a roundabout detour on the way back from Morocco, an Australian couple honeymooning far from their Melbourne home, and a Spaniard with a knack for storytelling late into the night. United by our varying degrees of fluency in English and our wanderlust, we traded travel stories and marvelled at this beautiful city that, at least for the time being, was ours to share.

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