Ode to the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Mull this over: a grilled cheese sandwich is one of life’s comfort and nourishing foods, especially when accompanied by a mouth-watering Honey Crisp apple. The same grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of steaming tomato soup also satisfies the soul.  And our souls demand much satisfaction in these turbulent times.

   On Saturday afternoons, my mother often made us grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, accompanied by a bowl of soup, usually tomato or tomato and rice.  Inevitably a sliced apple or pear appeared on our TV trays. Saturday lunch was the day of the week when we could eat off the TV trays while watching one 30-minute television program. Sometimes we watched “The Flintstones or “The Jetsons” [talk about time travel]; other times we watched “Lassie” as we slowly ate our preferred luncheon repast.

   I derived great comfort from this Saturday luncheon ritual. The world made sense from my child’s perspective. It was safe; it was familiar; it was love; and the food tasted good, too. To this day, I sometimes turn to a grilled cheese sandwich in time of question, confusion, pain, and solace. My preferred cheese in this sandwich is American. Plain, I know, but savory none-the-less, on Sara Lee Whole Wheat bread, or on slices of Italian or French bread. Sometimes I add leaves of fresh spinach to brighten the pale orange landscape on the toasted bread. Even my cat Valentino, foodie that he is, likes bits of grilled cheese; he is fine with melted American cheese. Neither of us needs Gruyere or Cheddar or Fontina; we’re copasetic with the classic American cheese with a bowl of tomato soup and a Honey Crisp apple on the side. 

Classic.

  Ciao for now.


An Italian Café

 

Go To Go by Lucrezia 's Bruschetta Duo tasted delicious!-www.tangledpasta.net
Go To Go by Lucrezia ‘s Bruschetta Duo tasted delicious!-www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This Memorial Day weekend, my plans included time with my newly minted Law graduate. Whilst she is fully engaged in studying for the Bar Exam, Anjelica carved out time for an afternoon for us to kick back and catch up.

We decided to explore a small bistro I had not yet been to: Good To Go by Lucrezia. One of my all time favorite places to dine is at Lucrezia Café and Restaurant in Chesterton. Good To Go by Lucrezia carries sublime artisanal olive oils and vinegars like its parent café. One of the draws for me was that Good To Go immediately reminded me of a small, tucked away café in Venice and Rome I frequented on my sojourns to Italy. The dark wood interior, faux granite countertops, bistro tables and chairs, with a bar-lined wall on one side and an oil and vinegar selections lining the other, gives a charming Italian vibe, except in Italy these dining gems use marble countertops and often tabletops as well.

Good To Go by Lucrezia’s luncheon menu provided us with an eclectic assortment from which to choose. We selected the following for our leisurely luncheon: Inko’s unsweetened Blueberry ice tea; I drank the White Lemon. We ordered a Small Plate of the Bruschetta Duo with Salsa Cruda and Roasted Vegetables. It was like a riff on caponata with artisanal olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I decided on the Triple Cheese Panini with French Gruyère, Vermont Cheddar, and American cheese with onions sautéed in Balsamic vinegar, served on 13-grain whole wheat bread with butter infused EVOO. Included was a side of coleslaw, which I normally dislike, but Good To Go’s was made with oil and vinegar. Tasty. A great mug of the soup of the day, Italian Wedding Soup, was also included. For her section, Anjelica chose the Apple Artisan Flatbread made with fresh sliced apples, whole milk Mozzarella, and Amish Gorgonzola was topped with a fresh arugula and chopped walnut salad with the house walnut infused EVOO.

Check out the lunch and dinner menus at http://goodtogobylucrezia.com/. The café is located at 54 W. Lincolnway, Valparaiso IN 46383; phone 219.286.7668; fax 219.286.7669; web address: goodtogobylucrezia.com. It is well worth the drive. Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Comfort Food

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The pasta bowl was filled to the top with Pasta e Fagioli, but I was hungry, and I had eaten most of it when I remembered I needed to snap a photo. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Maybe it had something to do with the death of one of my 48 first cousins last week. Perhaps the up and down warm and chilly weather affected me, or my usual spring melancholy at the end of a teaching semester accounted for it. Whatever the reason, I craved a Southern Italian food I had not made in a while: Pasta e Fagioli, otherwise known as Pasta and Beans. This filling, comforting dish of Italian tastiness is not complicated to make. In fact, Pasta e Fagioli can most likely be created from pantry items at home. Its ingredients are those I keep on hand. If I run out of an item, it is purchased the next time I stop at the grocery.

My guess is that I rather lost my taste for this classic Italian peasant dish when it became popular among affluent upscale types. Collectively those people were enough to make me lose my appetite when they seized upon our traditional food. After seeing my beloved Pasta e Fagioli on a restaurant menu priced at $5.00 to $10.00 a bowl, depending upon which part of the country I was in, it felt like a death knell had tolled. Having Pasta e Fagioli on a legitimate Italian restaurant menu did not faze me; it was seeing it printed on non-authentic Italian restaurant menus that saddened me.

Growing up in an Italian Catholic household, Pasta e Fagioli was standard Friday night fare since we were forbidden to eat meat or fowl in those years, although we could eat fish. There are as many variations on this Southern Italian classic as there are on vegetarian chili: every cook indulges in the chef’s prerogative when it comes to ingredients and consistency. Some prefer a thick Pasta e Fagioli, while others like it more in a soup form. I have always preferred it thick and hearty. However, now when I make Pasta e Fagioli, I use far less tomatoes than in years past. This is noted in the recipe included below.

Pasta e Fagioli

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped [or 2-teaspoons onion granules]

1 24-ounce bottle organic strained Italian tomatoes [or a 30-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes]

1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2-1/2 cups organic chicken stock

2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans

8 ounces organic elbow macaroni [or 8 ounces mini-farfalle]

1-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon ground black pepper

Grana Padano cheese to taste

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, and cook about a minute more, but do not burn the garlic. Stir in strained tomatoes, oregano, dried red pepper flakes, and chicken stock. Cover and cook to heat through, about 5-6 minutes. Add cannellini beans and simmer 10 minutes or so.
  2. Cook elbow macaroni in a large pot of salted, boiling water until nearly cooked, about 6 minutes. Add to mixture, and cook 20 minutes. Add salt and ground black pepper.
  3. Serve in pasta bowls with grated Grana Padano cheese on the side.

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.